Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A couple more photos from Tuesday night

The Hunt cheerleaders are at it again during a time-out.

The Golden Demons celebrate their first championship since 2005.

Congratulations to Fike for Classic sweep

The 33rd (31st for girls) Eastern Carolina Classic holiday basketball tournament concluded Tuesday night with a first, at least in my four-plus years at The Wilson Daily Times — a loss to a county rival by the Beddingfield girls.

The Lady Bruins were denied their fifth straight Classic title by Fike as the Lady Golden Demons won 57-50 to push their tournament-record championship total to 17. It was a sweet night for Fike as sensational senior Jeremy Atkinson led the Golden Demons to a 92-59 pounding of Hunt in the boys championship.

Atkinson finally won the Harvey Reid Jr. Memorial Award for boys MVP while Fike sophomore Leslie Finch (who won a national Punt, Pass and Kick championship three years ago) was saluted as the Eddie Summerlin Memorial Award recipient as the girls MVP.

Beddingfield thumped Greene Central 68-48 in the boys consolation meaning neither Greene Central team won a game this year. I wonder how many times that's happened.

Looks like the tournament came close to drawing 3,000 spectators based on my very unofficial estimate.

Here's another round of great photographs by Daily Times staff writer Ryan Bisesi.

Happy New Year!

A view of the scrumptious spread in the hospitality room reveals the outstanding preparation of tournament director Lee Matthews.

Beddingfield's Shaniqua Clay (11) and Fike's Tramicka James in action during the first half.

Nobody has the sideline intensity of Lady Bruins head coach Debra Pegram.

Smile, Leslie Finch! You've just been named the 2008 Eddie Summerlin Memorial Award winner!

Jeremy Atkinson brings the pain against Hunt and the rim in the Fike gym.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Second night of Classic is always fun

Maybe it's because the gym is usually a little less crowded but the middle night of the Eastern Carolina Classic holiday high school basketball tournament always seems more fun. Monday night at Fike for the 33rd Classic (31st for girls) certainly fit the bill.

I didn't get there in time to see Hunt beat Greene Central 42-25 in the girls consolation game but the boys semifinals matchup between Hunt and Beddingfield was well worth putting off my desk work for an hour or so. The Warriors went on an 18-0 spree in the third quarter to overcome a 17-point halftime deficit and turned the game into a tense, back-and-forth affair in the fourth quarter.

Play was sloppy at times, the officiating was lax at times and the decision-making was, well, horrible at times. But the game was pretty much as good as it gets in high school basketball. Fike's packed, sweaty gym reverberated with fans' reactions to the players' intensity. The kids were working so hard, knowing that a big play in front of a big Classic crowd was worth 10 times more than one during just about any other game.

Adding to the atmosphere was a battle between the cheerleaders as during many timeouts, one or two members of each squad would hit the floor for a series of somersaults that made me queasy just watching them spin. The Hunt cheerleaders clearly dominated here and they made sure their Beddingfield counterparts knew it.

It seems the Classic is back on good footing after a poor turnout at Hunt last year. The Wilson Daily Times (that's us) reported tickets sold through the first two nights in 2007 numbered around 1,300. Fike athletic director John Gay told me Monday night that around 1,162 were sold at Saturday's opening round and about 775 more for Monday's two games. Considering Fike's gym seats considerably less than Hunt's facility, that made for a great environment and I'm sure Tuesday will be as good, if not better.

Here are a few more outstanding photos from Monday night's action, taken by Daily Times staff writer Ryan Bisesi who also shot the images on my last blog entry.

Hunt girls head coach Quentin Rogers, right, gives senior Shantia Creech props as she comes off the floor against Greene Central.

The Warriors take the floor flanked by the Hunt cheerleaders.

Ken Spells, right, helps Beddingfield teammate Daquan Langston up. Spells had the right idea because Langston hit six 3-pointers for a game-high 23 points.

I thought this was a bad shot by Beddingfield senior Jermal Artis (22) but I couldn't see from the other end of the court that Hunt's Ahmad Young fouled him — as it appears here. But it wasn't called and the Warriors got the rebound.

Friends try to console Terrell Winstead, whose potential game-tying jumper was just short in the Bruins' 60-58 loss. Don't fret, Terrell, you'll get at least two more shots at the Warriors this season.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Classic off to a non-surprising start

The 33rd Eastern Carolina Classic holiday tournament (31st for girls) got off to a non-surprising start Saturday in the Fike gymnasium.

All the favorites won as the Beddingfield girls continued their recent domination with a 56-44 defeat of Hunt; the Fike girls continued their recent solid play with a 58-23 humbling of Greene Central and the Fike boys more or less cakewalked over winless Greene Central 73-42.

The best game of the tournament comes Monday night when the Hunt and Beddingfield boys tangle for the right to play Fike for the tourney crown. Both teams are contenders for the No. 2 spot in the 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference. I say No. 2 spot because I don't see anyone beating reigning conference and state champion Kinston, whose junior star Reggie Bullock was in Chapel Hill on Sunday night taking in the UNC-Rutgers game.

But back to the Classic, it continues to draw a big crowd, although the Fike gym limits the number of spectators that Hunt or Beddingfield see in the years they host. I still say the best place to play it is where it all began — Wilson Gymnasium on the Barton College campus. But that will not happen unless Barton offers its gym for free and, like I said, that will not happen.

Here are a few pics from Saturday's game. I'll have more here Monday night from the girls consolation game and the Hunt-Beddingfield boys semifinal.

Former Fike star and current Duke University running back Re'quan Boyette, center, watches the action.

Scheyler Jones of Fike (32) gets ready to can a jumper to put the Demons ahead by 30, so why won't Coach D sit down?

Leslie Finch of Fike brings the intensity as she tries to score between Shawan Daniels and Shonice Pettaway.

Beddingfield's Casey Elliott draws a bead on a 3-pointer.

Monday, December 22, 2008

GSK field includes Rocky Mount and Kinston this year

The Eastern Carolina Classic isn't the only holiday tournament going on in the area. The Nash County Christmas Tournament begins today at Nash Central while the Edgecombe County Christmas Classic will be played Saturday and Monday. The Johnston County North-South Christmas Tournament is scheduled to tip off Monday.

The biggest holiday basketball tournament is in Raleigh with the GlaxoSmithKline Holiday Invitational which runs from Friday to Tuesday at Broughton High School. Two teams that are well-known in these parts — Kinston and Rocky Mount — are in this year's boys tournament.

Here is the complete GSK schedule:

The 2008 GSK Holiday Invitational Tournament will be held December 26-30 at Raleigh Broughton High School’s Holiday Gymnasium. Click here for tournament brackets and please see below for the tournament schedule:

Dec. 26
2:20 p.m. - Girls: Raleigh Enloe vs. Durham Hillside
4 p.m. - Girls: Raleigh Ravenscroft vs. Raleigh Broughton
5:40 p.m. - Boys (Tournament 2): Raleigh Enloe vs. Cary Panther Creek
7:20 p.m. - Boys (Tournament 2): Raleigh Ravenscroft vs. Apex
9 p.m. - Boys (Tournament 1): Raleigh Word of God vs. Rocky Mount

Dec. 27
11 a.m. - Boys (Tournament 2) Loser’s bracket semifinal, Enloe/Panther
Creek loser vs. Ravenscroft/Apex loser
12:40 p.m. - Boys (Tournament 2): Richland (North Richland Hills, Texas)
vs. Knightdale
2:20 p.m. - Boys (Tournament 1): North Mecklenburg vs. St.
Raymond (Bronx, NY)
4 p.m. - Boys (Tournament 2): Father Carr (Toronto, Ontario) vs. Centennial (Roswell,
5:40 p.m. - Boys (Tournament 1): Kinston vs. Southern Lee
7:20 p.m. - Boys (Tournament 1): Apex Middle Creek vs. Arden Christ School
9 p.m. - Boys (Tournament 2): Semifinal, Enloe/Panther Creek winner vs.
Ravenscroft/Apex winner

Dec. 29
11 a.m. - Girls: Third-place game
12:40 p.m. - Boys (Tournament 2): Loser’s bracket semifinal,
Richland/Knightdale loser vs. Father Carr/Centennial loser
2:20 p.m. - Boys (Tournament 1): Loser’s bracket semifinal, Word of
God/Rocky Mount loser vs. North Mecklenburg, St. Raymonds loser
4 p.m. - Boys (Tournament 1): Loser’s bracket semifinal, Kinston/Southern
Lee loser vs. Middle Creek/Christ School loser
5:40 p.m. - Boys (Tournament 2): Semifinal, Richland/Knightdale winner vs.
Father Carr/Centennial winner
7:20 p.m. - Boys (Tournament 1): Semifinal, Kinston/Southern Lee winner
vs. Middle Creek/Christ School winner
9 p.m. - Boys (Tournament 1): Semifinal, Word of God/Rocky Mount winner
vs. North Mecklenburg/St. Raymond winner

Dec. 30
11 a.m. - Boys (tournament 2): Fifth-place game
12:40 p.m. - Boys (Tournament 1): Fifth-place game
2:20 p.m. - Boys (Tournament 2): Third-place game
4 p.m. - Girls: Championship game
5:40 p.m. - Boys (Tournament 1): Third-place game
7:20 p.m. - Boys (Tournament 2): Championship

The Eastern Carolina Classic tips off Saturday

It's almost Christmas and that means holiday high school basketball tournaments. Naturally, the Eastern Carolina Classic is the granddaddy of them all, now in its 32nd year for the boys tournament and 30th year for the girls.

I'll have a lot of stuff here on the blog during the tournament, including photos from Fike High School. In addition, I'll have previews for the girls and boys tournaments in the print and online editions of The Wilson Daily Times this week.

The action begins Saturday at 5 p.m. with the Hunt-Beddingfield girls game.

Here's the rest of the schedule:

6:30 p.m. — Fike vs. Greene Central (GIRLS)
8 p.m. — Fike vs. Greene Central (BOYS)

6 p.m. — Girls consolation game
7:30 p.m. — Hunt vs. Beddingfield (BOYS)

5 p.m. — Boys consolation game
6:30 p.m. — Girls championship
8 p.m. — Boys championship

If you plan to go, make sure you get there early because Fike's gym is, well, 50 years old and not that big and there is sure to be a large crowd each night. Also, metal detectors will be in place at the gates so dress warmly because you may have to stand in line if you get there late.

Admission is $7 for each day.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tar Heels can pull off rare championship double Sunday

North Carolina advanced to the NCAA Division I men's soccer championship with a 1-0 defeat of defending champ Wake Forest on Friday night in Frisco, Texas. The Tar Heels will play Maryland on Sunday in an all Atlantic Coast Conference final. The Terrapins defeated St. John's 1-0 in two overtimes in Friday's second semifinal.

The Tar Heels can achieve something very rare in college sports with a win Sunday. North Carolina could boast national champions in both men's and women's soccer for the first time at the Div. I level. In fact, it would be just the second time one school has won men's and women's championships in the same sport in the same year. Connecticut pulled off the feat in basketball in 2004.

The Lady Tar Heels won their 19th NCAA title last weekend, beating Notre Dame 2-1 in the final. The UNC men won their only national championship in 2001 when the school had a chance to pull off the double. However, the Lady Heels were upended by Santa Clara 1-0 in the final. That was the only time one school had two teams in the Div. I soccer championships.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Lady Bulldogs set a blistering pace

Barton College's 108-102 defeat of Erskine College on Saturday in Wilson Gymnasium has to be one of the highest scoring women's basketball games in regulation in NCAA Division II competition.

The Div. II record is 261 set on Feb. 27, 1988, when St. Joseph's (Ind.) defeated Northern Kentucky 131-130 in five overtimes. Had the Lady Bulldogs and Lady Flying Fleet played five overtimes, I can imagine that record would have fallen.

The most points in a women's Div. II losing effort is 106, which is held by four teams, with the highest combined total being 117. There is no indication in the NCAA record book if any of those games went into overtime but I assume not. That would mean Saturday's Barton-Erskine output is at least the fifth-highest in a non-overtime contest.

One thing is for sure, as reported by Michael Lindsay in Monday's edition of The Wilson Daily Times, the 108 points is a Barton record since joining the NCAA in 1995. It could be an all-time record but there is incomplete information from the NAIA days.

Adding to the impressive factor is the Lady Bulldogs' leading scorer, junior guard Esty Flores, did not play after sustaining a concussion in practice last week.

I know the first thought about such a game is there must not have been much defense. But as exciting as the Barton men's program has been the past few seasons, it might be worth getting to games early to check out the Lady Bulldogs who are off to 5-1 start, including 3-0 in Conference Carolinas games.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

UPDATED: ECU to play Kentucky in Liberty Bowl; State gets Rutgers in Papajohns.com Bowl

N.C. State has agreed to play in the third annual Papajohns.com Bowl on Dec. 29 at 2 p.m. in Birmingham, Ala., against Big East Conference foe Rutgers.

East Carolina will play Southeastern Conference opponent Kentucky in the Liberty Bowl on Jan. 2 at 5 p.m. in Memphis, Tenn.

Both games will be broadcast by ESPN.

East Carolina knew it was headed to Memphis, Tenn., for the Liberty Bowl when the Pirates defeated Tulsa 27-24 on Saturday in the Conference USA championship game.

The Pirates (9-4) will make their third appearance in the Liberty Bowl, which celebrates its 50th anniversary as they take on the Wildcats (6-6) making their first appearance in the game. This will be the second ever meeting between ECU and UK. The Wildcats won that matchup 6-3 on Nov. 13, 1993, in Lexington, Ky.

From ECU Sports Information:
ECU will have ticket, travel, and other ancillary information available on Monday, December 8th. All seating will be assigned using the Pirate Club priority point system. When ordering online Pirate Club member must login first and then place the order. Tickets will be available through the Athletic Ticket Office and by phone at 1-800-DIAL-ECU. Office hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Orders may also be placed online through the Online Ticket Center.

This will be the 24th bowl appearance for the Wolfpack, who finished 6-6. State was 4-4 in the ACC after an 0-4 start. Rutgers brings a 7-5 overall mark and finished 5-2 in Big East games.

From N.C. State Sports Information on getting tickets to the Papajohns.com Bowl:
There are 10,000 seats available to Wolfpack fans through the NC State Ticket Office beginning tonight on GoPack.com. Tickets are $40 and orders received before Dec. 12th will be mailed prior to Christmas. Orders received after Dec. 12th will be seated on a first-come, first-serve basis and available only at will-call options in Birmingham. Stay posted to GoPack.com for details about ticket will-call options.
NC State Faculty/Staff can order up to two discounted seats at $32 by showing a valid NC State ID at the NC State Ticket Office during normal business hours. Students may order tickets for $20 ($40 for guest tickets) online through their ticket account. .
Fans wishing to book official NC State travel packages can visit www.WolfpackClubTravel.com or call 1-800-924-9993 for information. Space will be limited.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Webster to serve country

I got word Thursday that Wilson's own Mike Webster will have a Very Important Duty come Saturday.

Mike will referee the Army-Navy football game, one of many plum assignments he's had as a college football ref. But the bigger aspect of Saturday's duty will come before the game when Mike and the head referee will serve as escorts to the guy who will flip the coin, one George W. Bush, the President of the United States.

Apparently, Mike had to get a security clearance from the Secret Service to handle this job. That's one heckuva thing to tell your grandkids and I'm sure Mike is pretty excited about it. I've known him since I was a little squirt playing football, basketball and baseball at the Rec when he was the athletic supervisor there.

What an honor for Mike, who is probably the first Wilsonian to escort a sitting president onto a football field to flip a coin. I don't know of any others. His fellow members of the Greater Wilson Rotary Club are proud of him as we all should be.

The game will be televised on CBS at noon Saturday so be sure to tune in and watch!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I'm sick of sports melodramas

As an addendum to my previous entry, let me now state that having millions more options for obtaining sports news than I did when I was a kid is not exactly a good thing.

For the past three nights, I've listened to ESPN work every possible angle of this ridiculous Plaxico Burress-shoots-himself-in-the-leg-with-an-unregistered-handgun carnival. There are serious-faced reporters on the scene outside the New York courtroom and Giants Stadium, somberly reporting on this event which seriously deserves about two minutes on SportsCenter and that's it. Now, they've dragged Antonio Pierce into the sideshow for allegedly hiding the handgun. I mean, who cares? Well, I'm sure New York Giants fans might care but if I was one, I'd be sick of it by now.

As if that farce wasn't enough, now ESPN has added the Sean Avery-talking-smack-about-his-former-girlfriend-who-now-dates-other-NHL-players circus. Yes, it was untoward and impolite of Avery to say what he publicly said about Elisha Cuthbert and he's now in hot water with the NHL and his team, the Dallas Stars. But does it warrant more than a mention? These folks turn the simple act of providing information into a full-on feature with analysts, commentary and background on Avery, who apparently is, like many pro athletes, a bit of a jerk.

Show me game clips, tell us something we don't know about the players and teams on the field or court but give that intense drama angle a rest. I'm over it.

Suiter stepping aside triggers old memories

Tom Suiter, the dean of eastern North Carolina sports guys (if Raleigh is considered eastern N.C. and it is for my purposes here), will step aside as WRAL-TV's lead sports anchor.

Suiter, a Rocky Mount native, will still host the station's Football Friday telecast highlighting high school football games across the eastern part of the state.

When I first got into this business in 2004, Tom Suiter's face was one of the first ones I saw when I walked off the elevator in the Kenan Stadium pressbox for the North Carolina-N.C. State football game. Seeing him made me realize how cool this job was going to be because Suiter has been THE voice of North Carolina sports for most of my life.

The WRAL release said he came to the station in 1971 which means he was doing sports on Channel 5 before I cared about sports. But back then Nick Pond was the lead sports anchor at WRAL, then Rich Brenner came along and was the top dog. But Suiter was always there and you knew when he got the seat for the 11 p.m. Saturday broadcast, it was like having a first-teamer out there. He was Frank Reich to Pond's and Brenner's Jim Kelly.

Suiter made Football Friday the big thing to watch. It was a must-see for me from middle school to college when I still had a big interest in high school football. I'll never forget him landing in that WRAL helicopter at Hunt when I was a senior to do a pregame piece for the Hunt-Fike battle that night when both teams were ranked in the state 4-A poll.

I was pretty much a WRAL sports guy back then. Oh, I would try to watch them all if I could juggle it. And when I say "all" I mean WTVD Channel 11, WNCT Channel 9 and WITN Channel 7. There was no ESPN in the 1970s. There was no cable TV for half the decade, at least in Wilson. You pretty much got four channels and WTVD was iffy at times.

I preferred WRAL because of the smooth delivery of Suiter, Brenner and Pond. But WTVD had Don Shea ("How do you spell sports? D-O-N-S-H-E-A") who could be a delight to watch as well. There was Dick Jones at WITN, who had the mellifluous tone of an emcee on a game show and reliable Jim Woods at WNCT, who as a friend has reminded me, used to use that old computer graphic to spit out his predictions for weekly college games.

But WITN and WNCT were less focused on Atlantic Coast Conference teams than they were East Carolina University, which is understandable. And while I liked Shea all right, I gravitated to WRAL more often. In time, it was Suiter whom I trusted to bring me the nightly sports news.

I doubt kids growing up today understand how important that job was back then. As an overly avid fan of ACC sports, I relied on television news and newspapers, including The Wilson Daily Times, for almost all of my information. I supplemented that by subscribing to The Poop Sheet and watching weekly coaches shows and listening to radio call-in shows (remember WPTF's Sportsline with Gary Dornberg? I was on that show several times. In fact, I brought up the subject of Georgia Tech joining the ACC and Gary spent at least five minutes talking about it after I hung up to listen with my 11-year-old ears!)

I don't really watch the evening news anymore since I'm usually working and I'm on the Internet so much, there's not much a TV broadcast can tell me that I don't already know. But I'll miss Suiter's face at ACC games and I wish him the best with all the thanks for enriching my life as a young sports fan.