The Region X tournament champion Sandhills Community College basketball team took high hopes and a nine-game winning streak into a District VII game against Montgomery College in Rockville, MD on March 3.
One of the winningest seasons in the 10-year history of Flyers hoops ended in an 85-59 loss. Coach Mike Apple's squad finished with a record of 27-6 and a No. 8 ranking in the final NJCAA Division III national poll. The Flyers were 16-2 in games played at the Hangar.
"I thought this was as talented a group of guys as I've worked with aside from the national championship team (2012)," the coach said after last Wednesday's team banquet at the Dempsey Student Center. "I thought we had all of the ingredients to make a run at a national championship.
"With the exception of playing poorly at Montgomery on that day, we went through the year as one of the best teams in the nation. It was a fun group."
The Flyers' coach began his remarks by paying tribute to the family members of the players, athletic director Aaron Denton, the administration of the college and the support of Flyer athletic programs by the community.
Among those he thanked were assistant coaches Darell Yates and Scott Bender, conditioning coach Tim Nocton, team manager Frank Wishart, athletic trainer Stefanie Mansfield, academic advisor Marsha Apke, scorekeeper Makayla Swinnie and video technician Emily Stonesifer.
The eight sophomores that completed their Flyer basketball eligibility were each presented with their road jerseys. They included All-Region X selections Parrish Stevons and Mason Harrell, Shane Garrison, Emmanuel Merriweather, Malik McCrimmon, Johnny McFadden, Luke Moore and Juwaan Childs.
Also introduced were red-shirt freshmen Damauri Sexton, Casey Clarkson, Jake Murdock and Xavier Grissett, and true freshmen Donnie Haith, Chase Morrissette-Barnett, Tavarus Peterson and Zion Copeland. Haith, a point guard from Pinecrest High School, was the Region X Freshman of the Year.
Apple talked about some of the high points of the season that included an early-season overtime win over Wake Tech and a 97-95 home win over a Division I USC-Salkehatchie team that lost in the championship game of the Division I Region X tournament. The topper was the 112-106 overtime win at Davidson County CC for the Region X title. The Storm is moving up to Division II next season.
Team awards announced by the coach included Harrell as the Offensive Player of the Year. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots per game. He made 62.4 per cent of his shots from the field and recorded nine double-doubles this season and a total of 18 in his Flyer career.
"Mason was the player the other teams put the most attention on stopping," Apple said.
Stevons, a 6-1 guard, who scored in double figures in 25 of the 30 games he played, and led the team with a scoring average of 13.1 points per game, was the team's Defensive Player of the Year.
"Parrish dedicated himself to being the best defensive player he could be and got the assignment to guard the other team's best player almost 100 per cent of the time," Apple said.
The product of Anson High School was among the team leaders in almost every statistical category including, second in rebounds (5.2 ppg.) and steals (1.5) and minutes played (21.6).
Lees-McCrae and St. Andrews are among the colleges interested in his basketball talents.
"I knew every game I was going to be assigned to a good player and I had to play on both ends of the court," he said after the dinner. "I feel really good because I was surrounded by a bunch of good players and good guys I went to war with. Regardless of the ups and downs, the wins and the losses, we stuck together as a family."
The award for Most Improved Player went to Garrison who started in 29 of the 30 games he played while averaging 8.7 points and 5.0 rebounds. He was credited with 18 points and 10 rebounds in a late season game against Johnston Community College.
"Shane was our best defensive forward," Apple said. "He dove for loose balls, took charges and was the glue that held us together."
Apple typically asks the players to vote for The Best Teammate Award, recognizing the player they most like having on their side. But before a vote could be taken, teammate Peterson spoke up and told the coach that the person clearly deserving of the award was McCrimmon.
The 6-foot guard from North Moore High School led the team with a free throw percentage of 85.0. He scored a career-high 16 points against the Methodist junior varsity as a freshman. He plans to pursue studies in physical therapy in the fall at Western Carolina University.
"That caught be off-guard for sure," he said of the honor bestowed by his teammates. "It's been great being with these guys. I love all of them.
"I've learned a lot from the coaches and the guys including Josh (Smith) and Zezva (Liluashvili) last year. They taught be a lot about being a leader and doing the right things in the classroom and on the court."
Apple presented Denton, who is leaving Sandhills to become the athletic director and a vice president at North Carolina Wesleyan in May, with a plaque and a Flyer basketball jersey.
In closing the coach said," Next year is here," alluding to the recruiting and open gym activity that is going on now.
Flyers extra – Statistical leaders – Scoring – Stevons 13.1 ppg, Harrell 12.6, Morrissette-Barnett and Haith 10.7; Peterson 9.6, Garrison 8.7; Rebounds – Harrell 8.6, Stevons 5.2, Garrison 5.0, Morrissette-Barnett 4.8; Assists – Haith 3.6, Morrissette-Barnett 3.5, Clarkson 2.9, Stevons 2.5; Steals –Haith 1.7, Stevons 1.5; Blocked shots – Harrell 1.7. Most points scored in a game – Morrissette-Barnett 29 (Davidson CC 2/25/18); Moore 26 (Oxford Emory 11/4/17). National ranking – Going back to Denton's final year as basketball coach (2011), the Flyers have been ranked in the top 10 in six of the last eight years. 2018 NJCAA Division III National Championship – Beaten by the Daquain Towns buzzer beater in the Flyers title year of 2012, Brookdale CC (NJ) completed a 34-0 season by defeating Nassau CC 70-57 in this year's tournament. Montgomery College finished in fifth place.
by Charlie Bergmann
photo by Donna Ford