by Chris Hunt
The Hopewell boys basketball team did all but secure the I-MECK 4A conference’s fifth and final state playoff spot on Feb. 4, holding off Mallard Creek at home, 62-57. A late four-game winning streak improved the Titans to 9-10 overall, but more important, 6-6 in the league.
Even if the Titans failed to win their final two regular-season games – against Vance on Feb. 8 and crosstown rival North Mecklenburg on Thursday, Feb. 10 – sixth-place Mallard Creek couldn’t catch them in the league standings. The only thing that could cancel Hopewell’s ticket to the postseason is if league basement dwellers Mallard Creek, Lake Norman or Hough somehow manage to win next week’s conference tournament, which will be held at Hopewell Monday to Friday, Feb. 14-18.
“We are pretty much in the playoffs after beating Mallard Creek,” said Hopewell coach Damon Bost. “I don’t want to look too far ahead, but only one of the lower seeds winning the conference tournament could knock us out.”
If you ask Bost, the key to the Titans’ resurgence has been the play of seniors Michael Russell and Elliot Pope. The 6-foot-7 Pope scored 25 points against the Mavericks, and Bost said he’s averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds in league play since returning to full speed after suffering a knee injury early this season. Russell is contributing 13 points per game and delivering clutch play when the team needs it.
“It’s the senior’s ship, and we’ll sail as far as Elliot and Michael will captain it,” said Bost. “They’ve lived up to what the seniors before them have done.”
Hopewell will most likely need the best from Pope and Russell to win the season finale. The Vikings will be looking to take their frustrations out on the Titans after falling from first to third place in the span of the last two games. Disappointing losses to now-second-place Vance, 43-40 on Feb. 4, and fourth-place Mooresville, 71-66 on Feb. 8, have the Vikings reeling entering the postseason. North Meck is 19-4, including a 10-3 mark in the league with one game remaining in the regular season.