South Central grows into sports powerhouse
By Jake Keator
The Daily Reflector
Friday, March 15, 2019
Before South Central High School was founded on June 30, 2002, many students in the Winterville area would attend D.H. Conley and those in outskirt areas would be in the Ayden-Grifton district.
Conley’s longtime athletics director Rob Maloney was in Pitt County prior to the opening of South Central, which has thrived athletically and especially in basketball. The Falcons’ boys’ team is nationally ranked and faces West Charlotte on Saturday for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4-A championship.
“Prior to South Central opening, Conley was Winterville’s school,” Maloney said. “That’s not to discredit anything they are doing out there, they are doing a great job with very competitive teams. Originally, Conley’s area stretched all the way from Grimesland to Winterville, because we were a very rural school back then.”
Conley even hosted homecoming parades in the streets of Winterville, until the new school was built to provide a closer location for most students to attend — the facility actually sits in the Greenville city limits, though it’s situated near the line between the towns.
In its 17 years of operation, South Central has proven itself as a major competitor in the Pitt County athletics’ landscape, especially this school year.
The Falcons’ football team finished 11-1, winning a conference championship before ending its run in the second round of the state playoffs. Its softball team is looking to return to the East Regional final after an appearance last season.
Furthermore, the success of the boys’ basketball program has created a unique buzz that stretches beyond North Carolina.
The Falcons (29-1) received an invite to the prestigious John Wall Invitational in December, when they made the final of their bracket and lost to a team from New Jersey for their only defeat, and they are ranked sixth in the USA Today Super 25 national poll.
Rankings are determined each week by the USA Today high school sports staff, utilizing factors such as school tradition, quality of players and strength of schedule.
“Our team analyzes more than 50 teams outside of the Super 25 teams from around the country who are on our radar to break into the national poll,” USA Today preps writer Jason Jordan said.
Jordan visited South Central on Feb. 11, speaking with head coach Chris Cherry, guard Shykeim Phillips and superstar junior forward and North Carolina Tar Heel verbal commit Day’Ron Sharpe. When Jordan left Winterville, he believed the Falcons were truly a national contender.
“For me, it’s the way that they buy-in and compete,” he said. “Clearly, these guys have played together and have amazing chemistry, but they hound the ball defensively and they execute exceptionally well in transition and the half-court. They’re strong at every position and it’s clear that there are no egos. That’s truly amazing and rare.”
The Falcons entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the East, lower than what many expected them to receive. The placement didn’t bother Cherry, but provided even more incentive for the team to prove it is the best in the state.
South Central has made a couple of key statement victories recently, including defeating one-seed Millbrook, 70-50, last weekend in Minges Coliseum.
“They got to this game, didn’t win it and came back the next year,” Millbrook coach Chris Davis said of the Falcons after his team’s loss. “I really hope our guys look at that and are inspired to do the same thing next season.”
Senior forward and East Carolina football recruit Jeremy Lewis agreed with Davis, and wants to continue to show the country that eastern North Carolina holds plenty of basketball talent.
“I feel like we made a statement,” Lewis said about defeating Raleigh schools Wakefield and Millbrook last week. “The disrespect we were getting by getting the three-seed, with two teams ranked above us. ... I felt like we made a statement because there was a lot of disrespect up there in the Raleigh area based upon our previous past, our history of losing in the regionals back-to-back. I feel like we made a statement and did what we had to do to show people we’re for real this year.”
Contact Jake Keator at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-329-9594 and follow @JakeKeatorDR on Twitter.
The South Central High School boys and Farmville Central High School boys and girls are heading to Raleigh on Saturday for NCHSAA basketball state championship games. Check page B1 today for a feature on South Central’s Jeremy Lewis, read Saturday and Sunday for more coverage and keep up with the teams on reflector.com, @reflectornews and facebook.com/dailyreflector.