Note: "Tonight" in the story refers to Thursday.
Postseason play for both the McDowell Titans and Lady Titans will begin tonight as each team will be hosting second-round contests in the NCHSAA State 4A basketball tournament.
The winners of tonight’s doubleheader will advance to Saturday’s third round, which will be hosted by the higher seeds.
Second-round girls’ action will start at 6 p.m. tonight (Thursday) at Titan Gymnasium when the 10th seed South Mecklenburg Sabres (25-4) square off with the seventh-seeded Lady Titans.
It’s the 34th consecutive season MHS has advanced to the state playoffs. McDowell’s last playoff win came in 2015.
McDowell (16-10), having received an opening-round bye in the tournament, will take the floor for the first time since last Thursday’s 60-44 loss to Freedom in the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference tournament semifinals.
Despite the loss – in which McDowell led by 12 at halftime before seeing the lead go by the wayside after the break – the Lady Titans enter state tournament play with some momentum, having won six of their last nine contests going back to early January.
The only setbacks in that span came at the hands of Freedom and Watauga, who finished tied for the regular-season conference championship. Both are 3A playoff teams and were easy first-round winners Tuesday.
McDowell finished third in the league standings and received a first-round bye by finishing ahead of South Caldwell, the conference’s only other 4A school.
The Lady Titans will host a powerful South Meck (24-4) squad that posted one of the Queen City’s best records during the season, finishing in second in the Southern Meck 7 Conference, a game behind Ardrey Kell. The Sabres have won nine straight. South Meck avenged two earlier losses to Kell by beating them in the finals of the SM7 tourney. The Sabres are coming off a 79-37 rout of visiting East Forsyth in Tuesday’s playoff opener.
South features three seniors on its roster, a trio that includes a pair of 5-foot-10 forwards, A’lea Gilbert (13.1 ppg) and Shariah Gaddy (11.2 ppg), along with 5-foot-9 guard Jadin Gladdin, who averages 12.4 points per game. The trio combined for 55 points scored in Tuesday’s win.
The winner will meet the winner of tonight’s game between No. 18 Butler (18-9) and No. 2 Mallard Creek (25-2).
In the nightcap, the fifth seed McDowell Titans, who also had a first-round bye, will host No. 12 seed Scotland County in a 4A boys’ second-round encounter. It’s the 31st state playoff appearance in the last 33 years for the Titans.
For their opponents, it’s going to be a long trip.
The Fighting Scots (18-8) will be making perhaps their first-ever journey to the Blue Ridge, a trek that exceeds 200 miles one-way from county seat Laurinburg to the friendly confines of Titan Gymnasium.
Scotland County, a member of the Sandhills 4A Conference, was the furthest east school placed in the 4A West Region when the NCHSAA released its pairings last weekend.
The Scots advanced to tonight’s game by winning 68-54 in Tuesday’s opening-round game against West Mecklenburg.
During the regular season, Scotland finished 9-5 in league contests and a distant second behind Sandhills 4A champ Hoke County, who was perfect inside of the conference and is 25-1 overall. Scotland fell 73-65 to Hoke in the conference tourney title game, but had won four straight prior to that loss and has won five of the last six overall.
The Scots feature no players taller than 6-foot-4, and seem to have a penchant for grinding it out; they have scored more than 70 points in a game just once all season, a 74-60 win at West Bladen back in late December.
The Titans are coming off a week of dramatic finishes on the hardwood.
McDowell (21-6), the league’s third-place team, finished two points shy of pulling off an incredible run through the Northwestern Conference tournament.
Last Thursday, the Titans got several clutch plays down the stretch to edge second-seeded Freedom (23-3) 84-78 on the Patriots’ home floor in the tourney semifinals.
Friday night, only a last-second basket off a steal at halfcourt allowed NWC regular-season champions Hickory (25-2) to escape with a 69-67 win over the Titans in the tournament championship.
The winner will advance to Saturday’s third round and will play the winner of tonight’s game between N. 4 East Forsyth (19-6) and No. 13 Butler (23-5). That game will be played at the higher seed.
Price of admission tonight is $7, with only state-issued passes allowed.
Note: The Titans’ six losses have come to three different teams with a combined record of 68-12 (.850 winning percentage); all three are still active in the state playoffs…The Lady Titans’ 10 losses have come to six different teams with a combined record of 127-29 (.814 winning percentage); five of the six are still playing.
McDowell News sports editor Marty Queen contributed to this story