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Originally published: 2014-02-22 20:47:00
Last modified: 2014-02-22 23:12:12

Watauga faces familiar foes in basketball playoffs

by Steve Behr Sports Editor

Those who set the state 4-A playoff brackets did not do Watauga's basketball teams any favors Saturday.

Both the boys' and girls' basketball programs face familiar foes in the first round of the state 4-A basketball tournaments. Watauga's boys' team hosts longtime rival Alexander Central in the first round of the playoffs at 7 p.m., Monday at Lentz-Eggers Gym.

The Pioneers (17-9), who captured the Northwestern Conference's No. 1 seed in the 4-A classification, are a No. 8 seed in the Western Regional. Alexander Central (14-11) is the 25th seed in the region.

Watauga's girls' team snuck into the regional as the No. 32 seeded team out of 32 teams. The Pioneers play at No. 1 seeded McDowell, also at 7 p.m. Monday.

Both Watauga programs face former members of the Northwestern Conference. Alexander Central moved to the North Piedmont Conference after realignment in 2012, while McDowell is in the Mountain Athletic Conference after being a longtime member of the NWC.

Watauga's boys' team has already faced Alexander Central two times this season. They beat the Cougars 61-58 in Taylorsville on Dec. 4, and 61-43 on Dec. 10 in Boone.

Watauga coach Rob Sanders said playing the Cougars could have its advantages. Watauga has two tapes of the Cougars to study, while other teams have to scramble to get tape of their opponents.

"We've played them twice, so my job's been pretty easy," Sanders said. "While I've had coaches texting me and calling me asking for teams we've played on film, I've got two copies of Alexander Central."

Alexander Central finished tied for fourth place with Statesville in the North Piedmont Conference. The Cougars are led by guard Davis Miller, who averages 9.2 points per game.

Another guard, Deion Wall, also averages 9.2 points per game for the Cougars.

Watauga is a different team since Dec. 10. The Pioneers have upset the No. 1 team in 3-A basketball in Freedom, and knocked off traditional NWC power Hickory in a road game.

Watauga's other big difference, which helped lead to those upsets, is moving 6-feet-3 center Aaron Dobbins into the starting lineup.

Dobbins has teamed with forward Matt Lambert to give the Pioneers a solid inside game. Michael Ebaugh has also made contributions off the bench.

"We were primarily playing a four-guard set," Sanders said. "It does give us an advantage having Dobbins in there, especially him scoring the way he has. It definitely makes defenses commit to get back to the post."

The winner of the game takes on the winner of the Jamestown Ragsdale-McDowell matchup, which is also Wednesday. Watauga will host either team at 7 p.m.

Watauga is coming off an 85-73 loss to Freedom in the semifinals of the NWC tournament, which was held at Freedom. The Pioneers stayed close with the Patriots, but gradually fell farther behind NWC champion Freedom.

Watauga was the only team to beat the Patriots. The Pioneers claimed a 75-65 win in Boone on Jab. 31.

Alexander Central lost 55-47 to Statesville in the first round of the NPC tournament.

Watauga's girls' team faces a McDowell team that goes into the game 22-0. McDowell is also the No. 1-ranked team in North Carolina, according to the ncpreps.com poll.

But Watauga coach Klay Anderson has coached against McDowell before. Although he has never beaten the Titans, he said his players feel confident they can go to Marion and compete.

"I don't think we hold them in the same regard we did say five years ago," Anderson said. "I think that's more of the adults and those who graduated high school or are in college who remember that stigma. In this age of technology, our kids know the stats and that Watauga has not beaten them since who knows when? We were excited about the draw. We know it's a tough road to hoe, but we'll do our best and hope we play the best game we possibly can play."

Watauga has not beaten McDowell since 1997. The Titans are led by Karly McRare, who averages 12.9 points per game. Markia Stacey scores 12.0 points per game and Kassie Bracket adds 9.0 points per game.

"They don't have that one superstar, but they are a balanced team," Anderson said. "I've seen them in the past. Last year, they beat us by about 20, but at our place, it was a one-point game until the fourth quarter and they ended up beating us by five."

The winner takes on the winner of No. 16 seed Northwest Guilford-No. 17 seed Lake Norman on Wednesday. Watauga would face either team on the road.

In other games, Avery's boys' team is seeded second in the class 1-A bracket, and faces No. 30-seeded Murphy at home on Monday. Avery is 20-2 this season.

Ashe's girls' team (11-14) received a 28th seed and will play at No. 5-seeded Parkwood, also on Monday.