Tigers, Lady Braves enter playoffs as lone top seeds

It took an extra day to materialize.

There was a large-scale conference call. Countless texts exchanged between the Region VI-5A athletics directors and a whole slew of phone calls with debates happening on either end of the line.

Certainly, the process to determine which team — Conway or West Florence — would ultimately end up with the No. 1 seed was anything but smooth. But what immediately got lost in the shuffle of the process that ultimately handed that top spot to the Tigers was what they had already accomplished.

Although the two teams shared the region crown, it was a major milestone for coach Mike Hopkins’ team. Through more than a dozen contacts, records at the school and internet research, it has been determined that this was the first region basketball title since at least 1966, the year the school integrated, if not longer.

“We are very proud of our young men,” Principal Lee James said. “Winning Conway High’s first region championship in men’s basketball is a testament to their resolve and dedication to each other. … Coach Hopkins has worked tirelessly to help his team improve in many areas. Shooting, ball handling, and passing are a few improvements I have noticed. Yet it is his ability to get these young men to work together that has led to this championship more than his work on any skill.”

What is also evident is just how much Sumter’s move out of the region for this year impacted the remaining teams. In addition to Conway’s milestone, West’s share of the region title was also its first since 1992.

Thanks to a complicated tie-breaker system that eventually gave the Tigers the top spot, it also means Conway will have its best postseason positioning ever. They will open at home Wednesday against an at-large team. Win that game, and it’s a second straight home game next Saturday. That game would also be guaranteed against another lower seed.

For the 10th-ranked Tigers, that could mean a second consecutive trip to the third round. Considering Conway failed to win a single playoff game between 1994 and 2017, it could would illustrate just how much has changed in a short period of time.

UPHILL CLIMB

Between overall playoff seeding and the state rankings, it is clear that Horry County programs are not expected to be hanging around very long this postseason.

Although the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association polls are little more than usual guesses with varying degrees of input, only two local schools are in their state’s respective top 10 going into the playoffs. The Conway boys are No. 10 in Class 5A, and the Myrtle Beach girls are No. 7 in Class 4A.

More importantly, the seeding situation isn’t exactly doing any of the local teams who qualified many favors. Only two local teams won region championships, the aforementioned Conway bunch and the Socastee girls.

Both of those teams will have the advantage of playing the lower state’s at-large entry — the last team to qualify for the playoffs, as well as a second guaranteed home game if they win in the first round.

After that, Carolina Forest and North Myrtle Beach girls (both No. 2 seeds), the third-seeded Myrtle Beach girls and Socastee boys and No. 4 Myrtle Beach boys round out the area’s teams from the state’s two largest classes. History suggests it could be a relatively brief playoff stint for the county. Last year, of the 40 teams in the state who eventually landed in either the lower state or upper state finals (the final four for each classification in boys and girls), all but 12 were No. 1 seeds. And those 12? They were all No. 2 seeds.

The girls playoffs will begin Tuesday, with the boys postseason beginning the next day.

Tuesday
Girls
No. 3 White Knoll at No. 2 Carolina Forest
No. 4 St. James at No. 1 Socastee
No. 3 AC Flora at No. 2 North Myrtle Beach
No. 3 Myrtle Beach at No. 3 South Aiken
Wednesday
Boys
No. 4 Myrtle Beach at No. 2 South Aiken
No. 4 North Myrtle Beach at No. 1 Colleton County
No. 4 Stall at No. 1 Conway
No. 3 Socastee at No. 2 River Bluff

Photo by Chuck Silvey

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