Red Devils seek return to Regional finals

The Lady Red Devils’ basketball team is seeking a return trip to the 2A Regional finals.

Newton-Conover (24-3) reached the finals last season after defeating Shelby, 59-38. They face the Thomasville Lady Bulldogs (23-6) tonight in Greensboro in one of two Regional semifinal games for a chance to repeat that feat.

Head coach Jonathan Tharpe believes his team is more focused at this point in the season than they were last year.

“We understand how you have to play at this level in the Regionals,” Tharpe said. “We also have the added experience of what the gym and venue will be like. I am able to help them visualize that a little better.”

Tiana Littlejohn, who is one of eight seniors on the team, has been to the postseason the last three seasons. During her sophomore year, the Lady Red Devils advanced to the Sectional final. The past two seasons, she has been a part of both Regional appearances.

She said those experiences helped the Lady Red Devils grow and mature.

“Last year, I think we shocked ourselves more than anything,” Littlejohn said. “Getting that far in the playoffs, we really didn’t realize that we lost the last game before the state championship. I don’t think any of us had realized that when we were there. I feel like this year, being a senior and back in the playoffs, it makes me more nervous because we are only two games away from a title.”

Fellow senior Briana Alston said despite the experience, everyone will be emotional when it comes time for the game.

“There is always nervousness,” Alston said. “I think we aren’t as nervous because we have been there. We know we can do this. Still, going into something big like this and knowing we could win it all, that makes you nervous. We are a veteran team though. We are more level-headed, and we know what we have to do.”

Thomasville finished third in the Central Carolina Conference. Leading them is 5-foot-8-inch guard, Christina Carter. Tharpe believes she is a key piece of the Bulldogs’ offense.

“She is a great point guard that cannot only shoot or dribble penetrate, but she can make sound passes to other kids that can shoot,” Tharpe said. “They have some really good shooters. For us, the key is defensively stopping dribble penetration, closing out hard on shooters and rebounding.”

Tharpe said he expects the Bulldogs to play a fast-paced game, but believes his team’s season prepared them for that.

“We’ve played teams that like to push tempo, like Hickory, Mallard Creek and Bandys,” Tharpe said. “We’ve played teams that have wanted to slow us down, like West Caldwell and Bunker Hill. Those teams have only helped us. I think we have good experience through our conference and with playoff teams that hopefully have prepared us well enough to win against Thomasville.”