Winterboro High School’s boys basketball team will clash with Ragland in the Class 1A, Area 9 Tournament championship game this afternoon at 5 in the Bulldogs’ recently-opened gymnasium.
The squads split their regular-season series, with each winning on its own floor. The Purple Devils defeated the Bulldogs 66-50 on Dec. 6. Winterboro answered with a 57-53 victory at Alpine on Jan. 17.
Winterboro head coach Sheroderick Smith said he expects to get Ragland’s best game of the season.
“Ragland’s trying to re-establish (its) program back to the winning ways,” he said. “Winterboro, right now, is the only one standing in the way. We both present matchup problems on both sides. It’s just always an advantage to stay at home because of the atmosphere.
“One thing that will help our team tomorrow is that our fans win the fan battle in the stands. Ragland’s going to bring that team spirit, and they’re going to cheer for their team win, lose or draw. Sometimes, they can add more fuel to the fire than what’s needed when you’re at home.”
Smith said it’s difficult at times to pinpoint the Bulldogs’ most impactful player given that each member of his starting five -- Cameron Pointer, Kameron Edwards, Brandon Dandridge, Chance Dandridge and Josh Tanner -- have led the team at least four or more times in scoring this season.
“That’s a very balanced offense we have, so it’s kind of hard to point out who’s going to be the X-factor,” he said. “If I had to point out who was going to be an X-factor, it would probably be Marquez Curry and Isaiah Holland for the defensive assignment that they’re going to have tomorrow.”
A win for Winterboro would give Smith his fourth area title in five seasons and allow the Bulldogs (15-11) to host a home game in sub-regional play.
Ragland could disrupt those plans with a big performance from senior Sloan Phillips, who has averaged 22.5 points against the Bulldogs in previous meetings.
Purple Devils head coach Andrew Eden said Phillips, a three-year starter who was elevated from the B-team due to injuries in the 2017-18 campaign, has been an impact player for a squad that has rebounded after winning only five games two years ago despite being competitive.
“We were competitive (two years ago) as in we weren’t blown out,” Eden said. “Then last year, we were 15-12, and he (Phillips) just made a lot of improvement. We got a nucleus of a really good team around him and guys that had remained on the B-team he would’ve been on two years ago. They actually had a really good season, so we knew we had a good group coming.
“This year, all of them have stepped up. They did a lot of work in the offseason. They played some travel basketball and some things like that. They really decided they wanted to work and be very good. It’s paid off and come full circle for us.”
Eden said his team took many lessons away from the January meeting with the Bulldogs.
“We didn’t shoot the ball very well,” he said. “They have a new gym, and it’s a little bit more wide open than ours -- a lot bigger than the one they were in.
“I think we’ve got to do a better job of getting to the basket. Conversely, on defense, we’ve got to do a better job on their big man (Brandon Dandridge). He had a good game against us. Then one of their guards, No. 23 (Chance Dandridge), he also had a good game against us.
“We’ve got to make shots at the rim and we’ve got to keep them away from the rim. I believe those are the two key things for us.”