Preview: Looking ahead to Chatham Charter, Northwood in 1st state title game appearances

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RALEIGH — Chatham County is taking over Reynolds Coliseum this Saturday.

And the schools representing it are making history in the process.

The Chatham Charter men (1A) and Northwood women (3A) will take the N.C. State-themed floor this weekend to compete for their respective crown in the 2021-22 NCHSAA Basketball State Championships, hosted at fabled Reynolds Coliseum on N.C. State’s campus.

Both the Knights and the Chargers — coming off of electric, defense-focused Final Four wins this past weekend — are making their first-ever appearances in the state title game after being on the precipice of the big game in recent seasons.

With the season finale just a few days away, the News + Record is previewing each team’s match-up by recapping their season so far, analyzing their biggest strengths and taking a glance at their opponent standing in the way of a state title.

Chatham Charter Knights

Conference: Central Tar Heel 1A (champions)

Record: 33-1 (10-0 in Central Tar Heel 1A)

Seed: No. 1, Men’s 1A East

Opponent: Hayesville Yellow Jackets

Postseason Recap:

• First round: vs. (32) Gates County, 63-40

• Second round: win vs. (17) Northwest Halifax, 60-56

• Third round: vs. (8) Neuse Charter, 68-36

• Elite Eight: vs. (12) KIPP Pride, 57-49

• Final Four: vs. (2) Wilson Prep, 59-42

Game Details: 5 p.m. Saturday at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh

Chatham Charter just seems different this season.

The team’s swagger, its confidence, its ready-for-anything mindset are indicative of its roster full of talented athletes and its insistence that it can beat anyone it takes the court against — and most of it stems from its calm, cool and collected leader at the helm of it all.

“For us, we haven’t had to get up for any of these state playoff games,” Jason Messier, the Knights’ head coach told the News + Record on Monday after being asked how his team has stayed motivated during its postseason run. “We’ve been talking about the playoffs since the beginning of the year — not overlooking any teams that we were playing — but as a unit, as a team, we were good enough to make a run in the playoffs.

“We had the pieces if we could put it all together,” he added.

That they do. And they have.

The Knights aren’t led by a roster full of veterans with a lifetime of experience.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They don’t even have a single senior on their roster.

Instead, they’re headed by a trio of juniors — forwards Adam Harvey and Aamir Mapp, along with guard Jackson Brown — who have learned how to weather the storm by fighting their way through last year’s COVID-shortened season and were members of (and much smaller contributors to) the Final Four team that came up just short against Winston-Salem Prep in 2019-20.

And yet it’s been Harvey, who was injured for his freshman season and has since won back-to-back Central Tar Heel 1A Conference Player of the Year awards, who has taken the reins of this team down the stretch and played like the most reliable of veterans — despite having just 48 career games under his belt.

Through 34 contests this season, Harvey is averaging 16.4 points per game, a number that’s drastically increased this postseason, bumping up to 22.8 points per game as he begins to settle in as the team’s top scoring option.

“When you’re in the conference tournament and the state playoffs, your best players need to step up and he is our best player,” Messier said. “He’s been capable of doing these things. Maybe earlier in the year, he may have deferred a little bit to some of the other players, but right now, when we need him, he’s just playing at an extremely high level.”

Harvey is joined by his brother, Beau Harvey, who has been the team’s floor general this season as a freshman, leading in assists per game (4.1) and steals per game (3.4). In the Elite Eight game against No. 12 KIPP Pride, the Harvey brothers combined for 44 points (77% of the team’s total scoring), proving their off-court relationship is beginning to improve their on-court chemistry.

However, as talented as the Knights are at dishing out assists and fighting for each and every bucket on offense, it’s a thing of beauty when they put together a strong defensive performance.

Entering Saturday’s Final Four game, the No. 2 seeded Wilson Prep Tigers — the defending 1A state champions — were averaging 77 points per game, having seven contests this season (and two this postseason) where they scored 90-plus points.

Yet, despite the Tigers’ high-octane offense, the Knights were able to hold them to their lowest point total of the season, by far: 42 points.

“We knew, coming in, that they had four guys who could shoot from the parking lot; these guys’ range was exceptionally deep,” Messier said. “Going into the game, we broke down each of those players and how we were going to approach them, what their strengths were and what we needed to do. We needed to make sure we were playing team defense.”

The Knights will need to make sure that defense shows up against the Hayesville Yellow Jackets, the 1A West’s No. 1 seed, in the state title game on Saturday.

Not only does Hayesville average 67.9 points per game, but it has two dominant scorers in senior forward Jake McTaggart (18.3 PPG, 12.1 rebounds per game) and senior point guard Kolbe Ashe (17.4 PPG), both of whom bring a bucket of unique skills to the table.

By having played the Yellow Jackets in two of the past three post-seasons — splitting the series, 1-1, during that span — the Knights know a little bit about what they’re going up against.

“We’re familiar with the team and their approach, we know they’re well-coached and they’re going to be fundamental, so we’ll just have to play our game and trust in what has gotten us to this point,” Messier said. “Defense, energy, teamwork, that’s really our game plan. There’s no reinventing the wheel at this point.”

“(This run’s been) exhilarating, exciting, it’s been a lot of fun,” he added. “I just want these guys to enjoy it and realize that they’re a part of history.”

Northwood Chargers

Conference: Central 3A (champions)

Record: 30-1 (12-0 in Central 3A)

Seed: No. 2, Women’s 3A East

Opponent: Enka Jets

Postseason Recap:

• First round: vs. (31) Swansboro, 64-7

• Second round: win vs. (17) Triton, 67-44

• Third round: vs. (7) West Carteret, 67-14

• Elite Eight: vs. (14) Williams, 66-52

• Final Four: vs. (1) Terry Sanford, 51-50

Game Details: 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh

The Chargers are one game away from immortality.

After a deep playoff run last season that was cut short by an experienced Asheboro Blue Comets team in the Final Four, the Chargers are back, better than ever and ready to play for a state title for the first time in program history.

It’s been an up-and-down postseason for the Chargers’ opponents, some getting absolutely waxed — including two games where Northwood won by 57 and 53 points, respectively — and others keeping it close. But rarely have they strayed from the consistent, defense-centered play that’s got them to this point.

While nearly all of the Chargers’ games this season have been blowouts — with only two wins by single digits and one total loss — their Final Four match-up with Terry Sanford, one of Northwood’s newfound rivals due to all of their recent postseason battles, was nothing short of extraordinary.

It was a thrilling reenactment of last year’s Elite Eight game, played in Fayetteville, where the Chargers won on a last-second 3-pointer.

It had it all: lead changes, big-time scorers, a rivalry atmosphere and, as is customary from the Chargers this season, a ton of defense.

Northwood held out for a close 51-50 win, sending the previously undefeated Bulldogs home with a bad taste in their mouths as their storybook season came to an end.

“I was just so proud of our team, that was a fight to the end, it was a fight the whole game and we knew it would be, they’re a very talented team,” Kerri Snipes, Northwood’s head coach, told the News + Record on Monday. “Our girls worked really hard on defense. That’s probably the best defensive effort I’ve seen all season.”

Chargers senior Olivia Porter, as she has been all season, was crucial to the Final Four win, doing what she does best: putting up points (averaging 18 points per game), creating turnovers and thriving at making opposing ball-handlers uncomfy.

Porter’s decision to transfer to Northwood — leaving Alabama with her father, Larry Porter, who took a job as an assistant football coach under Mack Brown at UNC — has proven to be a lucrative one, getting her one step closer to claiming her first state title and ending her high school career with a bang.

She’s impressed alongside her fellow senior guards, Natalie Bell (8.4 PPG) and Myla Marve (7.9 PPG), and sophomore guard Skylar Adams (6.7 PPG), who have, together, created a fearsome defense that wreaks havoc on opposing guards.

As a team, the Chargers are averaging 13.1 steals per game, a testament to their defensive greediness.

Down low, Northwood is aided not only by Porter — who has been a terrific post player and rebounder when she needs to be — but also junior Te’Keyah Bland (8.5 PPG) and junior Caroline Allen (5.9 PPG), both of whom have made names for themselves with their ability to draw contact, give their team second and third chances and use their size to impose their will inside.

At times, the Chargers have felt like a complete package.

And seemed nearly unstoppable.

Enter the No. 19 Enka Jets, the 3A West Regional Champions, a 16-14 team who are on the Cinderella run of a lifetime. Enka, located near Asheville, knocked off the region’s No. 14, No. 3, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 4 seeds, all on the road, to make it all the way to the state title game.

It may be easy for some to write off the Jets — a sub-.500 team which also had a losing record (5-7) in its conference — but not Snipes and the Chargers.

When it’s playoff time, as Enka’s already proven, anything can happen.

“They’re a tough team and they didn’t get there by happenstance,” Snipes said. “Just because their record may not show it, they’re obviously a tough team, they’ve made it this far and played against some tough schools. Plus, they’ve been traveling. That says a lot. … We know it’s going to be a battle.”

The Jets have two formidable scorers in senior Bentlee Chockley (20.1 PPG) and junior Hadleigh Dill (16.8 PPG), which will be a tough test for the likes of Porter, Bell or any other Chargers that attempt to guard them.

But despite Enka’s momentum and team-of-destiny aura, Snipes doesn’t appear to be concerned.

After all, with Northwood pushing through obstacles such as early-season injuries, a new head coach in Snipes and plenty of offseason exits, all while still having a monstrously successful season so far, shouldn’t they also be considered a team of destiny?

“(We’re going to) really enjoy this week,” Snipes said, “and make sure that we’re preparing the best that we can to try to bring home a championship trophy for Northwood and Chatham County.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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