Sugar Jets Reach Sweet Sixteen; Rockets Win WMAC Tourney

By Pete Zamplas

Reynolds won the WMAC regular season, then tourney on such plays as this drive by 6-5 senior center Ethan Hefner (32) versus West Henderson. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Enka Sugar Jets are savoring a sweet basketball playoff run, led by sharpshooter Emily Carver.

West Region fifth seed Enka (24-4) won a 60-58 thriller Saturday at fourth-seeded Jesse Carson Cougars (25-4). This was a Sweet Sixteen triumph for the Sugar Jets, on a Leap Year Feb. 29 and with many of their fans cheering on 240 miles from home.

Enka trailed by three after a quarter and at halftime, and was down two entering the final quarter. The Sugar Jets outscored the Cougars 13-9 in that “crunch time.”

Carver’s three-pointer propelled Enka in front by two points, with 3:30 left. Carver stole the ball, missed a jumper, but the Sugar Jets fought for the ball to keep it in play. Carver eventually snatched the rebound. She then launched the go-ahead “trey.”

Those were among Enka’s 14 second-chance points. Carson missed two three-pointers in the final seconds.

Carver, a junior with D-1 offers, is Enka’s main scorer. She led all scorers with 26 Saturday. She fired in 35 points in round two, sinking 26 free throws.

Hadleigh Dill, a five-eleven ninth-grader, scored 14 points Saturday.
Enka hung around after an early 17-5 deficit, led Carson by four late in the first half but trailed 37-34 at halftime. Down eight, Dill drilled a three-pointer. Later, after Carver’s clutch trey, sophomore Hannah Daves sank two foul shots to widen the lead to 59-55; she scored eight points. Senior Mae Cordiale contributed seven points.

Sugary WMAC Crown

Reynolds senior guard Tyler Parton (5) knocks the ball to keep it in play, in the WMAC tourney at North Henderson. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Enka, coached by Aaron Reagan, won the Western Mountain Athletic Association regular-season title at 15-1. That was their first conference title since 1994 — 16 years ago.

The Sugar Jets are the sole Buncombe County public high school hoops squad still in playoffs. The three Buncombe boys’ squads in playoffs — A.C. Reynolds, T.C. Roberson and North Buncombe — all bowed out in openers. had rated Carson girls just ahead of the eighth-ranked Sugar Jets, statewide among 3A girls. Their game Saturday was in China Grove, N.C., as in The Doobie Bros.’ song.

The Sugar Jets next played at unbeaten Freedom (28-0) Tuesday, in round four. The winner plays the SE Guilford-Cuthbertson victor this Saturday, for the West Region crown and a trip to the state finals March 14. Freedom ripped Charlotte Catholic 74-36 on Saturday.

The round four contest was a rematch. Freedom edged Enka by three at 76-73 at home on Dec. 27, in a Christmas tourney in Morganton. That game was close throughout.

In playoffs, Enka demolished Alexander Central 67-35 then blasted Northern Guilford 70-59. The Sugar Jets destroyed several regular-season foes, winning by 38 at Roberson, by 38 and 34 versus West Henderson and by 28 at Tuscola.

WMAC runner-up Roberson’s Quinton Harris (35) scores against Tuscola. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

The two-point victory over Carson was Enka’s closest win, and among few close endings. Enka had final margins of six or fewer points merely five times — losing three.

A six-point loss to Erwin was Enka’s third WMAC tournament semifinal exit in a row.

Lady Cougars, Hawks, Warriors

Asheville (22-5; 14-2 WMAC) rated 12th among 3A girls’ teams in N.C., North Buncombe (20-7; 12-4) 26th, and Erwin (16-11; 10-6) 45th.

Third-seeded N.B. Lady Hawks won the WMAC tourney, held at North Henderson. Tami Ramsey is their coach. They beat fourth seed Erwin in a 50-47 nail-biter final. Senior Kaitlyn Light drove in for a basket and hit a foul shot, for a 47-43 N.B. lead. But Erwin scored the next two baskets, in zest to secure its third WMAC tourney title in a row. Emma Ducker tied it with a layup beneath the basket. A charging call on N.B. gave Coach Matt Carpenter’s Lady Warriors the ball back, and a chance to win.

But the Lady Hawks intercepted the in-bounds pass, deflecting it to sophomore Pressley Laws near the baseline. Laws promptly blazed in the winning jump shot, at the buzzer.

But then in playoffs, 18th seed N.B. dropped a close 48-42 game at Mount Tabor.

Meanwhile, 13th seed Asheville crushed Weddington 92-57 behind Evangelia Paulk’s 33 points. She scored 30 in the second half, starting with the team’s first 11 points. Lanky ninth-grader Paulk has quick instincts and shot release with either hand. She averaged 19.3 points, junior Emma Smith 18.7 and AHS senior Ava Yurko 14.4 in this season.

The athletic Lady Cougars pressed ferociously, and caused 34 turnovers in the playoff win. Coach Sonita Warren-Dixon’s young varsity has merely two seniors compared to six freshmen, a sophomore, and four juniors. The Lady Cougars are poised for a multi-year run at titles.

Their season ended with a 52-49 loss at Carson, in round two. Carson opened by beating 29th seed ACR (10-14; 9-7) by 66-44.

Rockets’ Green Glare

Reynolds boys, the West 3A sixth seed, also lost in round one — by seven at home to Monroe — while Roberson and North Buncombe (14-12, 9-7 WMAC) lost decisively on the road. Erwin (8-13; 6-10), Asheville (9-15; 6-10) and Enka (8-16; 4-12) missed playoffs.

North Buncombe Lady Hawks won the WMAC tourney, behind energetic play by sophomore Karlyn Pickens (15) among others. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Sterling regular seasons were registered by both Coach Ryan Stevens’ ACR (19-9; 13-3), and TCR (17-10; 12-4) coached by veteran Billy Phillips. These arch rivals were tied atop the WMAC at 12-3, heading into a showdown at Reynolds on Valentine’s Day to close the regular season.

The Rockets won a 57-52 grinder, thanks to a 17-6 spurt in the second quarter. That snapped a Ram five-game win streak.

The Rockets won the WMAC regular season, then its tourney for the third consecutive year. They defeated Tuscola 60-52 in the finals.

Reynolds’ top scorers in ‘19-20 were senior guards Tyler Parton and Jakari Thompson, both averaging 14 points, then 6-5 senior Ethan Hefner at 11.
Roberson can return its top scorers — also guards — in ‘20-21, in juniors Austin Johnson (12.6 ppg.) and Spencer Cable (10.4). Cameron Phillips (7.6 reb, 8.2 ppg.), a 6-6 senior, was the best Ram rebounder.

Roberson beat AHS by 14, but then fell to Tuscola in a wild 94-82 WMAC semifinal. Lanky Nate Bradford scored 39 for THS, then 32 against ACR. Tuscola (18-11; 10-6) was the sole WMAC boys’ team among the four postseason squads to win in playoffs.

North Buncombe is coached by Chuck Robinson. The Hawks had balanced scoring with senior J.T. Laws (14 ppg., 5.2 assists); juniors Caleb Lominac (13.3, 9.2 reb.) who is 6-5, Bryce Payne (11.4, 8.5 reb.) and Walker Corbin (9.6); and senior Caden Norris (9 ppg.).

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