If there is anything the first half of the high-school varsity basketball season has told Bladen County fans, it’s that there are two state-championship quality teams being constructed — one at each end of the county.
With the arrival of Christmas Day, the West Bladen boys had put together an 8-1 record and the East Bladen girls have built a 12-0 mark. And if anyone talks in confidence with the two coaches, each will say their teams are nowhere near as good as it will be come state playoff time.
For the Knights, the team is currently on a six-game winning streak after capturing the Woodman Life Christmas Tournament title against a stiff field. West Bladen’s run to the trophy included a 68-52 win over rival Whiteville, a 79-72 win over Four County Conference foe Midway and a 67-66 come-from-behind overtime win over Class 4-A Hoke County.
“We’re young. I don’t think people really realize just how young we are,” said West Bladen coach Travis Pait, whose Knights are playing in the East Columbus Holiday Tournament this week. “We’re not as good as we were last year, but we’re also not as good as we will be.”
The Knights’ lone loss came at the hands of Fairmont, 71-47 — a 24-point loss that served more as an aberration than as a measurement of how good West Bladen was.
Over at the other end of the county, the Lady Eagles are off to their usual strong start, opening the season with 12 straight wins. Their average margin of victory so far is 29 points and the closest they have come to being challenged came in the opening round of the Wilmington Laney Tournament when they beat Jack Britt, 47-42.
“We have good senior leadership with Lacey (Suggs), Abby (Ward), Chris (Cromartie) and others,” East Bladen coach Patty Evers said earlier this season. “And there are some good young players getting experience that will help along the way.”
The Lady Eagles are coming off a sweep of the two games in the East Bladen Christmas Tournament, when they defeated Whiteville, 59-23, and North Brunswick, 69-37.
The West Bladen girls are off to a tough start under a new head coach and a new offense, so far struggling to a 2-6 mark — with the two wins coming against West Columbus, 29-17, and a Four County Conference win against Union, 41-33.
“We’re getting there … slowly,” said West Bladen coach Rick Rhoda about his Lady Knights. “When we run the offense, and don’t turn the ball over, we do so much better. But right now we’re still trying to get everyone on the same page at both ends of the court.”
The Lady Knights are playing in the East Columbus Holiday Tournament this week.
Back at East Bladen, the Eagles have struggled for wins thus far — except against East Columbus, which East Bladen has defeated three times already this season by the scores of 69-37, 75-53 and 71-47. Altogether, the Eagles are 3-7.
“I don’t know what the answer is,” said East Bladen coach Ken Cross. “We have the athletes, but we aren’t going to win much if that’s all we rely on. We’ve got to put the work in to get better results.”
East Bladen went 1-2 in the Woodman Life Christmas Tournament at West Bladen, losing to Southern Lee, 65-37, and Whiteville, 51-40, along with getting the third win over the Gators.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.