by Chris Hunt

The Hopewell girls basketball team came up short in the I-MECK 4A conference tournament, losing to Mallard Creek for the third time this season, 43-30. Only center Tierra Burks scored in double figures for the Titans, who struggled to solve the Mavericks’ pressure defense in the tournament finals, which was played at Hopewell on Feb. 18.

But, Titans coach Gary Richmond didn’t seem too upset after the loss. The Mavericks are the only team to beat Hopewell (23-3, 13-1) this season. But after winning the regular season crown, Hopewell – not Mallard Creek – was the conference’s No. 1 seed for the 4A playoffs. Richmond said the tournament loss wasn’t important, as long as it didn’t carry over into the first round of the state playoffs.

As Richmond expected, the loss to the Mavericks didn’t affect the Titans’ confidence. On Feb. 21, Hopewell dismantled Asheville A.C. Reynolds, 65-38, in the first round of the state playoffs. The Titans jumped out to a 21-9 first quarter lead and never looked back. Hopewell’s leading scorer Hannah Early bounced back from a rough conference finals with 17 points. Sharpshooter Hunter Meakin connected on four of her eight 3-point shots to finish with 14 points.

With the win, Hopewell advanced to the second round and faced the No. 3 seed out of the MEGA 7 3A/4A conference on Feb. 23, East Gaston, which owns a record of 12-12. The Mavericks (24-4) also advanced with a one-point win over Sun Valley, 43-42, and took on I-MECK third-place finisher Hough in the second round.

If both Hopewell and Mallard Creek continue to advance, they could see each other for a fifth time this season in regional finals. Richmond, however, would prefer to avoid another showdown.

“I am not looking forward to playing Mallard Creek again because it just gets old,” said Richmond. “It’s a mentally and physically draining game, but if we play a fifth time, it must mean we are pretty good.”