The Friday afternoon Big South 3A play-in game, to see who was going to make the 3A State Playoffs, between Hunter Huss and East Lincoln never materialized. The reason why was simple according to Mustangsâ€™ Coach Neil Hodgesâ€”the rulebook.
After sweeping the Huskies in regular season play, Hodges believed it was unfair for his team to have to play a game in order to gain entry into the playoffs. He felt his team had already earned it.
â€œItâ€™s something thatâ€™s been on my mind since last week and the way it was set up, it just didnâ€™t seem fair. The reason I didnâ€™t say anything about it initially was I wanted to see how we were going to do in the tournament (Big South Tournament),â€ he said.
Friday morning, Hodges contacted NCHSAA Associate Executive Director Rick Strunk regarding whether or not the Mustangs would indeed have to participate in the play-in game. The associationâ€™s response?
â€œUnder no circumstances should you have to play that game.â€
Now with the ruling behind them, East Lincoln will set their focus on Fred T. Foard in the first round of the 3A State Playoffs.
The Tigers (18-7) are led by Naval Academy-signee Adam Teague. The 6â€™7â€ small forward averaged 22 points per game and twice scored 38 points. Hodges feels how well his team can defend Teague will go a long way in determining the outcome.
â€œThey have a very good club. Heâ€™s a very good player and is the leading scorer in that league. When he goes well, they are very good, so we canâ€™t afford for him to come out and get in the 30s. We need to try to hold him down a little bit,â€ he said.
Hodges has been proud of how much improvement theyâ€™ve shown over the duration of the season. For them to be successful against the Tigers, he believes several areas are key.
â€œWeâ€™re going to have to continue to play very good defense. We need to continue our balanced attack between the outside and inside game. Our kids have played very hard and I think theyâ€™ve shown great improvement from November until now. I think weâ€™re beginning to learn how to play the game,â€ he said.
What does Hodges feel the Mustangs have learned?
â€œItâ€™s very important to understand spacing, when to pick it up, when to slow it down and I think our kids are learning how to play. Itâ€™s been a good year,â€ he said.
The East Lincoln basketball family has been through plenty of adversity over the past couple of seasons, both on the court and off. Itâ€™s that adversity that makes the playoff berth that much more satisfying.
â€œThey came into this year after having a very bad year last year with a lot of unfortunate things happening. I was unable to be around (due to supporting my wife), so they had two or three different coaches. Then they were chosen last coming into this year. I think they decided to pick it up and prove everybody wrong,â€ Hodges said.
â€œItâ€™s exciting to be there, we deserve to be there. We just hope our kids understand thatâ€™s not all weâ€™re looking for. Weâ€™re not just happy to get there. We want to see how far we can advance. Weâ€™re going to go out and play with a lot of intensity, a lot of enthusiasm and when itâ€™s over have no regrets,â€ he said of the Mustangs, who have recorded the most victories of any East Lincoln squad since 1991.
The successful season has been more special for Hodgesâ€™ seniors. The seniors, led by point guard Darin Dellinger, Carlos-Marquez Sykes, Josh Davis and Wayne White helped the Mustangs go 5-1 against Lincoln Co. competition.
â€œOur kids were real happy to win the mystical Lincoln Co. Championship because our record against the county schools was better than any other,â€ he said.
While Fridayâ€™s ruling may be controversial in some eyes, Hodges offers no apologies.
â€œBeing a member of the NCHSAA as all schools are, we are required to follow the rules and regulations set forth by that group and the rulebook is very plain.â€
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