Those who were really paying attention figured Conway was going to have every chance of repeating on its region championship from a year ago.
Defending player of the year Tonka Hemingway was coming back, as was Tim Steele and a number of other pieces who played a role last winter. Against their rival on Friday night, the Tigers proved what their experience and talent could do.
Coach Mike Hopkins’ team ran away from upstart Carolina Forest en route to a 77-59 road victory.
“We’ve got seniors who play like seniors. That’s the way it’s been,” Hopkins said. “Tim and Tonka have been playing since they were freshmen. I told Tim ‘You played way back then when you probably shouldn’t have. But it was for this moment right here.’”
Since the conclusion of football season and the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, those two, along with fellow two-sport starters Xavier Kinlaw and Carlton Terry, have started to mesh considerably. Some of those odd-looking losses from December have morphed into early January victories, including the first three of the Region VI-5A slate. The latest happened with Steele finished with 23 points and Hemingway had 21 against Carolina Forest.
They combined for 26 after the break, when Conway started to pull away from the Panthers.
“Me and Tonka are a dynamic duo,” Steele said. “Me and him get down and got down to work. We’re too big. There really isn’t anyone around with our size, so we can dominate inside.”
Alex Greene had a game-high 14 points for Carolina Forest, which fell to 8-10 overall and 2-1 and a three-way tie for second place in region play, and Grant Warren was just behind with 12.
But this night was all about Conway’s experience, and what it could do with the game being decided. Still, Hopkins wasn’t ready to start calling his team the favorite to win the region title, not with two more games next week prior to the midway point of that portion of the schedule. The Tigers will play Socastee and then West Florence to round out the first half of region play.
PANTHERS GIRLS STAY PERFECT IN REGION
Conway scored three seconds into the game, dropped in the first six points and led heading into each quarter.
Carolina Forest played better when it mattered most.
The Panthers — taking the court without longtime head coach Stacy Hughes due to a family situation — turned it on in the fourth quarter with a 13-2 run that pushed them to a victory over the Tigers and to a 3-0 start in Region VI-5A. Carlie Skolsky led the way with 16 points for the Panthers, while Gabby Giracello had 12 points and seven assists.
Conway, 1-11 overall and 1-2 inside the region, will return home Tuesday to face Socastee.
Carolina Forest will head to current region co-leader West Florence on Tuesday, the winner of that game taking possession of first place into the final three weeks of the regular season.