Eastern Randolph basketball teams still hope for rewards

Coach Johnny Thomas talks to his Eastern Randolph boys’ basketball team during a game last month. (PJ Ward-Brown/Randolph Record)

RAMSEUR – The win-loss record looks drastically different for Eastern Randolph’s boys’ basketball team from a year ago.

But second-year coach Johnny Thomas said there could be a payoff in the coming weeks.

Thomas lined up the Wildcats for a stiff schedule this season and the game results have been mixed.

“What a lot of people don’t understand,” Thomas said. “They ask the question: Why would you play this team? Why would you play this team? Why would I not?”

So new opponents have been part of Eastern Randolph’s non-conference schedule.

Eastern Randolph played January non-conference road games against Asheboro, Swansboro and Farmville Central, losing them all. The latter two outings came in a three-day span.

“I think playing those two games will set us up to be more successful in the conference as well as the postseason,” Thomas said.

Last season’s 12 non-conference opponents all changed with two exceptions. The Wildcats faced Lee County and Western Harnett across the first two days of Lee County’s holiday tournament in late December just as they had a year earlier.

“I want to play anyone that is good,” Thomas said. “Right now, we’re in a building phase.”

The reason for the approach from Thomas is that the Wildcats would like to have another strong run in the Piedmont Athletic Conference and state playoffs. They set school records during last season’s 29-3 campaign, reaching the Class 1-A state final.

“We want to get out there and prove to people that we can play,” Thomas said. “The only way you can do that is go out there and play better teams and get out there and compete.”

Eastern Randolph entered this week fresh off Friday night’s 81-77 victory against Trinity in a PAC showdown. Then the Wildcats won two more games to improve to 10-7 overall and 5-1 in the PAC.

They topped host Grace Christian 83-80 in Monday’s non-conference game and then topped league rival Providence Grove for a 104-48 road rout Tuesday night.

Those recent results might have been signs of the rewards that could come the Wildcats’ way.

“At the end of the year, we’ve got to prepare ourselves to play against juggernauts and do all this other stuff, so us scheduling a team that we know we’re going to beat or scheduling a team when we can go out there and we can have a perfect record, that’s not what I’m about,” Thomas said. “I want to challenge my guys. We want to build past the adversities (and) all the obstacles that are placed in front of us.”

Girls’ team regroups

It has been more of a struggle for Eastern Randolph’s girls, who were PAC runners-up last season and reached the third round of the Class 1-A state playoffs.

“Just have to give us time and we’ll be fine,” coach Jeff Davis said earlier in the season. “We’re playing a bunch of juggernauts, a bunch of juggernauts. We need a little break.”

There’s just a limited amount of experience among the Wildcats, who had standout Brecken Snotherly providing big point totals last season. She’s a freshman on East Tennessee State’s team.

The Wildcats, who lost to Providence Grove on Tuesday night to fall to a 3-14 record, knew they would lose Snotherly and then Logan Beaver opted not to play this season.

Eastern Randolph counts on junior Kenly Whitaker, who underwent knee surgery after last season but has returned to form. Davis said Ziera Watson is putting together pieces for a big senior season.

Yet sometimes the Wildcats have looked fatigued, Davis said. Katelyn Brown’s wrist injury was a setback, though newcomer Mirianna Corea can be a force in rebounding.

Eastern Randolph won only one of its first five games, losing twice to Chatham Central and Burlington Williams. More recently, the Wildcats lost their first four PAC games before last week’s victory against Trinity.

“We’re going to win some games,” Davis said. “We’re going to lose some games.”

By Bob Sutton