No, it isn’t the Derby! It’s the Three Rivers Conference basketball race as teams “jockey” for potential playoff spots. Heading into the final week of regular season action Fairmont’s boys and East Bladen’s girls have all but locked up top seeds. Both would have to lose its remaining regular season games to possibly be knocked out of the top spot. Even then, girls and boys second place Red Springs would have to sweep its three games to challenge the Golden Tornado boys or Eagles girls.
While the boys race has become relatively clear, the girls situation remains jumbled. Added to the confusion is the 1A/2A split conference and uncertainty as to exactly how playoff eligibility is determined.
It appears that either the East or West Columbus girls will make the playoffs. It is unlikely both will, despite both appearing in the top 48 1A schools in the MaxPreps adjusted rankings. The Vikings loss to Whiteville on Friday, while devastating may be too strong a term, certainly damaged its chances of beating out the Gators for the automatic playoff bid. West Columbus let a double-digit, third quarter lead slip away, falling in overtime to the Wolfpack 64-54. East Columbus also lost, but the 66-52 loss to conference-leading East Bladen was nowhere near as harmful to its playoff chances.
Here’s why. West Columbus has three games remaining, back to back with second-place Red Springs and a home contest against East Columbus. East Columbus travels to Fairmont Tuesday. The Golden Tornado girls have not won since Kiara Page has been out of action. Despite Page scoring 19 points and pulling down 19 rebounds January 15 East Columbus earned a 54-48 win. If West Columbus can earn a split against Red Springs and East Columbus defeat Fairmont both teams would enter Friday’s finale with TRC records of 10-7. The winner would get the automatic berth. That is just one of several scenarios involving the two teams that could play out this week.
Nick Stevens’ projection at highschoolOT.com has both Whiteville and St.Pauls girls making the playoffs. Finishing in third place in the conference should secure a playoff berth. The Wolfpack and Bulldogs are each 10-6. Whiteville travels to St. Pauls tonight (Tuesday). St. Pauls defeated Whiteville, 35-32, January 25. A Bulldog win would give St. Pauls the conference tiebreaker over Whiteville. A Whiteville win, although not locking up third place, certainly would make the Wolfpack’s outlook favorable with St. Pauls traveling to Red Springs on Friday. Whiteville finishes the season at home against South Columbus. The Stallions have won two of its last three and nothing can be taken for granted in a rivalry game. The aforementioned, six-loss West Columbus girls tough week has already been detailed.
The West Columbus boys have locked up the 1A automatic playoff berth and will be seeded as a #1 since the Vikings overall record will meet or exceed .500. West Columbus’ results this week will determine how high a seed it receives and also how difficult an opponent it would face in round two after a first round bye. It could also determine if a third round game (if successful in round 2) would be at home or on the road.
South Columbus boys have an outside shot at a playoff berth. They could move into a fourth-place tie with St. Pauls. The Stallions would need to defeat West Bladen and Whiteville AND get HELP FROM WHITEVILLE! Without a Whiteville win at St. Pauls Tuesday, SCHS can’t catch the Bulldogs. Even a fourth-place finish would not guarantee a playoff spot, but anything lower would make it highly unlikely.
Barring any strange happenings, and if you have followed regular season TRC play that is certainly possible, East Columbus Boys and South Columbus Girls will be involved in conference tournament play-in games Saturday. Conference finisher #10 plays at #7 and #9 at #8.
And finally, in theory, ANYONE could win the conference tournament and receive an automatic playoff berth. Stay tuned, as the teams hit the home stretch!