Believe anything is possible.
That is the new motto for the Newton-Conover Lady Red Devils basketball team heading into Saturday’s Regional championship game against Salisbury.
On Tuesday, Mallard Creek (27-4), a team that Newton-Conover defeated earlier this season, knocked off defending state champion Butler (30-1) in the 4A ranks.
Following that upset victory, Newton-Conover head coach Jonathan Tharpe texted all of his players with one simple message.
“I texted them that Mallard Creek had beaten Butler,” Tharpe said. “All you have to do is believe.”
The Lady Red Devils (25-3) and Lady Hornets (25-1) will square off for the second time in two seasons in the Regional championship in Greensboro on Saturday. Last season, Newton-Conover fell 43-32 and Salisbury went on the win the state title.
For some of the Lady Red Devils, the game is not only about a berth in the state championship game, but also vindication.
“We have to go for revenge,” said forward Kadesha Gibbs. They have won two years in a row. I think it is our turn.”
Among the many players the Red Devils should watch out for is freshman Brielle Blaire. She is a 6-foot-4-inch freshman who single-handedly changed the outcome of Thursday’s Regional semifinal game against Bandys.
After being held to just five points in the first half, Blaire exploded for 11 points in the third quarter, as the Lady Hornets distanced themselves from the Trojans on their way to the victory.
“She is a very gifted freshman,” Tharpe said. “We will have to keep her off of the glass.”
Another item of interest for the Lady Red Devils will be rebounding.
Newton-Conover builds momentum from a strong rebounding game against Thomasville. The Lady Red Devils won the battle of the boards, 43-21, against the smaller Lady Bulldogs. Leading the charge was Gibbs, who had 14 rebounds.
Tharpe knows his team will have a much stiffer challenge trying to rebound the basketball against Salisbury. The Lady Hornets out-rebounded Bandys, 38-23.
“It can’t just be Kadesha,” Tharpe said. “sIt has to be everybody. They are too big and too long for just Kadesha. Everyone has to step up their rebounding. If they will do that, we will be in the game.”
The challenge in rebounding will be the height and size of many of the Lady Hornets. On their roster are four players that stand six feet or taller, including Blaire, and seniors Olivia Rankin (6-foot-2), Jessica Heilig (6 feet) and Eboni Feamster (6-foot-5).
“The only thing they have against us is height,” said senior guard Briana Alston. “All we have to do is box out. I think we can win it and knock them out.”
There are no players for Newton-Conover that stand 6 feet tall. Their tallest players are Gibbs, who is 5-foot-10, and 5-foot-11-inch bench player Amy Birner.
“Obviously, we aren’t the tallest team,” Tharpe said. “So all five girls on the court have to get to a body and rebound. The biggest thing I have preached to them about is keeping Salisbury off the offensive glass. If you can keep them off the offensive glass, you will be in the ball game. If you don’t, you will be down 20 points real quick.”
Tharpe also believes that execution will play a critical part into the game’s final outcome.
“We have to make the right decisions,” Tharpe said. “They might not be able to make the pass they are used to making. They’ll have to make a ball fake or head fake and get to the gaps.”
Ultimately though, Tharpe believes the game goes much deeper and that the intangibles his player’s possess could play a huge role into Newton-Conover winning.
“Even when they get tired, they have to find a place deep down within their gut,” Tharpe said. “They just need to play as hard as they can for an opportunity to go the state championship.”