3A East Regional: Warrior girls show trust in coaching staff
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 6, 2013 1:47 PM
Soaked from a post-game water-bottle shower, Tyrone Wagner wiped down his face while Eastern Wayne's players gathered around him in the locker room.
Excitement filled the air about what had just transpired on the court.
The Warriors clinched the program's first-ever sectional title and earned their first-ever appearance in the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 3-A eastern regional girls' basketball tournament with a victory over county nemesis Charles B. Aycock.
"We knew that Aycock was going to give us their best shot, everyone always gives us their best shot," a grinning Wagner said. "It was a good feeling ... just amazing, unbelievable to tell you the truth. In the locker room, we talked about all the milestones -- the firsts -- we've accomplished this season."
Eastern Wayne extended its school-record, single-season victory total to 28 games and fashioned a 16-0 record on its homecourt. The girls swept the regular-season and tournament titles in dominant fashion, and logged an unbeaten worksheet (14-0) against those teams.
The Warriors seek their next milestone Thursday.
Ranked No. 4 statewide, Eastern Wayne faces Coastal co-champion West Craven (25-5) in the second semifinal-round game at 8:30 p.m. inside the Crown Center in Fayetteville. Chapel Hill, the state's No. 1-ranked team, meets Northern Guilford in the opening game.
The regional final is Saturday at 4 p.m.
"I have a young group of girls and they have a strong desire to win," Wagner said. "They just want to go out and play hard, aggressive. Sometimes I don't think they realize how much of a disadvantage we have facing other teams."
The disadvantage is height.
Freshman Naheria Hamilton is the Warriors' tallest player at 5-foot-11. The rest of the team ranges from 5-1 to 5-8. That lack of size prompted Wagner and his coaching staff to play an up-tempo pace predicated on a suffocating defense they have affectionately dubbed "32 minutes of havoc."
Wagner uses a five-player rotation that can play either a zone-trapping style of pressure, or man-to-man scheme that showcases the team's speed at the guard positions. The girls bucked the system during the early part of last season and played as individuals when they stepped onto the court.
The Warriors limped to a 5-10 record and seemed destined to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
Something clicked after that.
The players began to trust Wagner and his staff. They bought into the frantic defensive system and saw the work pay off as they constantly wore down their opponents. They rose up the ECC ladder and finished runners-up to Aycock in the 2012 tournament.
Eastern Wayne ended the year 13-13 after a second-round playoff loss at West Craven.
"Everyone was trying to do their own thing and there were different people in their ears trying to tell them what to do instead of what they should have been doing," Wagner said. "They didn't like me subbing five in every time because they felt like it didn't give them a chance to get into their 'groove' as they like to say.
"Towards the end of the season, they finally understood what we were doing and decided to trust us. It's helped going into this year."
Eastern Wayne has played some tight games this season, but more often than not, it ran the opposition out of the gym. The Warriors' unrelenting pressure defense sped up the game and caused the other team to become disjointed offensively.
Wagner's team causes 30-plus turnovers an outing.
"It's the style we have to play," contends Wagner. "We want to keep a lot of pressure on the guards (and) front the posts. We try to keep the ball from getting to the middle, which can hurt us because we're probably the smallest team in the (3-A) division.
"I know the conference teams didn't like us pressing (32 minutes), but we couldn't afford to let them get inside too much."
The Warriors are 8-5 in the postseason since 2007 and are the first ECC team since 2009 to reach the regional level. Former league member Beddingfield carried the ECC banner that season, but lost to eventual regional and state champion Greensboro Dudley.
The ECC has had three state champions in league history -- SouthWest Edgecombe in 1981 and 1982; and Beddingfield in 2006. Those three teams finished with a combined record of 91-0.
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