Both Marion county public high school basketball varsity teams are down to just a precious few games before they wrap the regular campaign.
Marion boys and girls are in a better position as they both are unbeaten in the conference schedules to date. Mullins boys and girls, although pretty much assured a playoff spot, barring some unforeseen disaster, have more work to do improve a possible playoff seeding. Here is where each are now and what work they still have to do.
Marion girls are the No. 1 ranked girls team in Class 3A as we speak. They are also on top of their region and have staked their claim to winning the region with a huge win over Dillon. They wrap the home schedule this week with visits from Loris and Aynor before traveling to Cheraw on Feb. 11 and Dillon on Feb. 13.
They have not been challenged in the region games except for Dillon but they fully expect the Lady Wildcats to not give up their reigning championship without a fight. Marion is cooking right now. Mariah Moody, Kimmie Barnes, Tonaja Lester and Keyla Britt are the stalwarts and they are leading the charge almost every night with Yazmie Howard filling in admirably at any of the guard spots, Along with defensive minded Destiny Allen and fellow 10th grader Ka’Nyiah Davis do a lot of the heavy lifting off the bench. Davis has been brilliant every time out and we have to mention the enormous contribution from senior front court player Alierria Rogers who had a bust out game against Dillon and could very well have been the difference between the Lady Swamp Foxes winning and losing against the feisty Cats. They are also expecting center Precious Davis and Kevianna Dixon to be vital contributors on the boards and in the paint. Marion currently sports a pristine 21-0 record through the Lake City game last Friday.
The conference crown gets them at least two home playoff games.
Mullins girls are in a lot more precarious position. Mullins has dropped four games during their region schedule so far. They are currently 6-4 in the region and 10-9 overall. They should have four games left in the regular campaign including one against reigning conference champ East Clarendon. That will be the only one left on their schedule that could pose a threat. The Lady Aucs were seemingly on the verge of being blown out in Latta Friday night but mustered a pretty formidable challenge in the closing minutes to make a game of it against the tough gritty Latta Lady Vikings. There were some good signs even though they came up short. One very bright spot that revealed itself to me was the emergence of Junior center J’Nyla Phillips who put on a huge offensive explosion against the Vikes. She picked up multiple baskets displaying an array of moves in the low block. She also battled on the boards especially the offensive boards to keep Mullins in the game. She was in support of the usual suspects Jen’Lea Nichols and Tameisha Lasane who both were answering the bell time and time again as Latta attempted to flex them right out of the gym. Lasane was a terror on the boards while also putting big shots down time after time, while Nichols went outside and played facing the basket much of the night where she was able to use her dribble to get to the rack time after time for scores. She also did her part on the board as usual where she was also able to collect baskets off the offensive glass. The Lady Aucs should win two of their remaining fourgames with little or no trouble with only Kingstree and East Clarendon as potential land mines that could trip them up. Janiya Swinton has handled much the ball-hanling on the point for Mullins and has done a good job after being thrust into the role this year as only a freshman.
She will get better and so will backcourt partner junior Kelly Friday who generally plays steady with limited mistakes while also possessing the ability to drain jump shots from distance when the defense is not giving her the attention it needs to.
Marion Boys are right where they need to be. On top of the region standings with only a trip to Cheraw that is of any concern headed into the final two weeks. They have played a monster schedule and has taken on teams from all the higher divisions and gave as good as they got in them, many of those games were high profile non-conference events including two trips to Columbia. The team has come together and is a threat to anybody they will run up against going forward. Their core is solid albeit thin. TJ Sanders and Mac Mac Washington are the two guys that no one has really stopped this season. AJ Vaught has emerged as another go to guy when a bucket is needed or a play needs to be made to get a bucket. Then there is Zy’aire Charles who has been the biggest surprise this year for the boys team. He has been special right throughout. Lately we see Devine Wilson staking his claim to important minutes and he has performed extremely well of course SaeQwan McCullough has done what he has done since he came into his own. Hit big shots and make himself a feared defender all over the court. Marion was in desperate need of another big body to come in a spell the thin frontcourt brigade and it looks that person could be Sr. Amir Fling. He came in against Dillon and made his presence felt on both ends. He is athletic, has a big physical build and is fearless. You could see him more going forward if he keeps doing what he is doing of late. Marion currently sits in the top 10 in class 3A with an overall record of 14-8 and 6-0 in region play.
Mullins boys have some work to do. They are 6-4 in region play and currently sit in third place. That is the good news. The not so good news is with four games left to play and two of them against the top two teams, they are only two games in the standings away from being a fifth seed and thus out of the playoff conversation. They really are in “must-win” mode from now until the end. If they stay a three seed they should get at least one home game. A fourth seed gets you on the bus to somewhere. The win over Latta was impressive, which tells me they have the potential to get better in the short term. They do have pieces including a nice collection of big physical front court types. Kheauris Cross who is stepping forward as maybe the go to guy in the post. He is big, quick and has good footwork to make himself a handful to deal with. Shaq Gordon, Sam Pressley, Alim Legette, Savion Campbell and JaHaven Phillips have also added to the up-front muscle for the Aucs. CJ Gilchrist and Tyler Sandvil do most of the heavy listing on the back line and long range bomber Quinton Tisdale is becoming a factor and a huge threat with his ability to launch three pointers with accuracy. Mullins has an overall record to this point of 11-7.