Panther Creek lost and I still couldn't take them out of my top spot. Why? Because the Catamounts looked like a small college team the way they shut down Athens Drive in every facet of the game on Friday. But if somebody else deserves the top spot in the TCN/SWW rankings we will find out this week. Check out the rest of them below as we had some movers & shakers after some unexpected results.
1. Panther Creek (20-2): lost to Apex 72-62, defeated Athens Drive 50-30
--up next: @ Cary (Tue.), @ Middle Creek (Fri.)
- I didn't exactly predict it, but I did say PC would "have trouble [winning twice] this week when they travel to Apex and host Athens Drive." So the Catamounts will probably lose their No. 1 ranking in the statewide poll this week due to their loss @ Apex, but they don't have to lose the conference. That much was saved when PC dismantled Athens Drive on Friday, leading by as much as 27. If both PC and MC survive Tuesday, Friday's game will be for the regular-season conference title outright.
2. Middle Creek (19-3): def. Fuquay-Varina 94-48, def. Lee County 67-47
--up next: @ Athens Drive (Tue.), Panther Creek (Fri.)
- The schedule-makers gave Middle Creek a unique four-game stretch to end the season where the Mustangs go from possibly the two easiest games in the conference to the two hardest. If the 'Stangs win both games, there's no denying this team deserves the regular-season title. And I know sometimes we take MC for granted. They do have two future D-1 players. But the fact this team has hardly missed a beat from last year is a testament to coach David Kushner. The flaws are out there for the taking, but somehow the Mustangs overcome them time and time again.
3. Athens Drive (20-3): def. Lee County 63-54, lost to Panther Creek 50-30
--up next: Middle Creek (Tue.), @ Green Hope (Fri.)
- I agree with Athens coach Robert Clemons. I've never seen a BAD 20-3 team. But I have seen a 20-3 team play bad, and that was the Jaguars on Friday. It was humiliating. The Jags don't want to be pigeonholed as the No. 3 team in the Tri-Eight (and the TCN/SWW rankings) and no better or worse. For them to get that respect, they've got to beat Middle Creek. Not falling behind 20-0 or 29-8 as they did in the teams' last meeting would be preferable.
4. Cary Academy (17-6): def. Durham Academy 68-54, def. North Raleigh Christian Academy 64-60
--up next: Forsyth Country Day (Tue.), Ravenscroft (Fri.)
- If I we had to hand out a Coach of the Year award for the TCN/SWW teams, first-year man Kenny Inge would be my darkhorse. His Chargers have steadily improved each week and are now locked in for no worse than second place in the TISAC. It's a long shot, but Inge's team can actually force a tie for first if they were to pull off the unthinkable against Ravenscroft on Friday.
5. Apex (11-10): def. Panther Creek 72-62, def. Cary 73-55
--up next: @ Fuquay (Tue.), Lee County (Fri.)
- Last week I pondered if Apex was going to roll over and die after three straight losses, two coming in the last minute, and Panther Creek coming into town. Answer: NO. The Cougars put up the second-most points by a Catamount opponent this season and proved yet again why David Neal is one of the area's best coaches, why Apex is one of the toughest places to play and why you can't count the Cougars out no matter how bad things get.
6. Green Hope (8-14): lost to Cary 58-57, def. Fuquay 69-52
--up next: @ Lee County (Tue.), Athens Drive (Fri.)
- To say the Falcons missed a chance against Cary last Tuesday is like saying my Wolfpack simply lost a lead today to Virginia Tech. If there was a team the Falcons couldn't afford to lose to as they fight for the fifth spot in the Tri-Eight it was Cary. Or maybe it was Lee County. See, the winner of the GH-Lee game this Tuesday might be in the driver's seat for the final automatic playoff spot. Green Hope still has the edge there (4-8 Tri-8) for now, but a loss would muddle things and possibly force a 3-way tie. And as we saw in football season, that's decided by the luck of the draw.
7. Holly Springs (7-15): lost to Knightdale 67-49, def. Smithfield-Selma 64-52
--up next: @ SE Raleigh (Tue.), Garner (Fri.)
- The Golden Hawks needed some help to get to fifth place in the Greater Neuse Conference (aka the last automatic playoff bid) and they got it. Now they need more. Garner, Knightdale and Clayton have got the top three spots. West Johnston, East Wake and HSHS are all tied at 4-8 in the conference at the fourth, fifth and sixth spots. East Wake swept both HSHS and WJO so they'd get priority if the three teams tied for the last two spots. HOWEVER, East Wake has games with both Garner AND Knightdale this week. That hellacious late-season schedule should give HSHS more than enough chance to claim fourth or fifth in the conference. Tuesday's opponent, SE Raleigh, is 3-9 in conference play this year.
8. Cary (3-18): def. Green Hope 58-57, lost to Apex 71-55
--up next: Panther Creek (Tue.), Fuquay (Fri.)
- Safe to say this is the best 3-18 team I've ever seen. It's the Imps' grit that has kept them in the playoff race thus far. Just in the last two weeks they've taken Middle Creek to the wire, toughed it out with Apex for a half and upset a Green Hope team that thought it wouldn't have to worry about losing its fifth place in the conference standings to Cary. Now Green Hope must worry. Cary needs to force and then win a 3-way tie for the last automatic playoff bid, but that scenario isn't entirely unlikely. First, they've got to defeat Fuquay on Friday (I'm chalking up the PC game as a L). Then they must have GH lose to Lee on Tuesday and have both teams lose on Friday (against Athens and Apex respectively) so that all three finish with 4-10 records in Tri-Eight play. Considering their recent play, it wasn't fair to keep the Imps at No. 9, so we bumped them up a spot this week.
9. Cary Christian (8-14): def. Arendell-Parrott Academy 59-36, def. Rocky Mount Academy 65-57
--up next: @ Halifax Academy (Tue.), Rocky Mount Academy (Fri.)
- Darn that St. David's team. They are the only EPIC member (that's the EPIC conference mind you) to defeat Cary Christian this year. The Knights can clinch second place in the EPIC standings if they sweep this week's games.
10. Fuquay-Varina (3-18): lost to Middle Creek 94-48, lost to Green Hope 69-52
--up next: Apex (Tue.), @ Cary (Fri.)
- In their current 11-game losing streak, the lowest margin of defeat for the Bengals came on a 64-61 loss to Cary. The good news is that Fuquay will get one more chance at the Imps on Friday, which should be the last chance for a feel-good moment before baseball season begins in the FV.