The A.C. Flora Falcons are on a collision course with the Ridge View Blazers Friday, February 9 for the Region 5-4A title.
“We like where we are,” A.C. Flora head coach Jacob Thompson said. “We would like to be 9-0 instead of 8-1, but we still control our own destiny. Friday will be a big one. It’s a big one because we played them three times last year. I think Coach ( Terrence) Gibson believes his team has a real good chance to play for the Lower State Championship, if not the State Championship. I know that’s how we feel over here. As a coach or as a player, to play someone you know went deep into the playoffs last year and is expecting to again this year, if you aren’t excited about this type of game, you probably shouldn’t be playing in it to begin with.”
It’s been another successful year for the Falcons. They currently sit at 19-6 overall and 8-1 in the region. Earlier this year they swept the Westwood Redhawks, a team they lost to three times last year, which included the 4A Lower State Championship. Their only blemish in region play this year is a two-point loss at Ridge View.
“We didn’t hit some shots,” Thompson said. “There were some free throws and layup opportunities we didn’t score on that we would like to have back. Knowing we didn’t play a perfect game and still only lost by two points gives the girls confidence knowing that if we play the way we can play we really like what we can do.”
While Thompson credits the Blazers’ home environment, he recognizes having the season finale at The Nest could be a similar advantage for his team.
“It’s homecoming for A.C. Flora,” Thompson said. “It could be a little louder than normal. Everyone knows we pack the gym. I’m interested to see how many students show up. It’s a little hard since the spring sports have started up. The girls are comfortable with playing at home, and that’s when they are a little scary.
The Falcons’ offense has lit up the scoreboard nearly all season. A.C. Flora averages 54.6 points per game and has scored 50 or more points 15 times, including in the last three games. The offense is led by Terriana Gray.
“Gray is the one that stirs the offense,” Thompson said. “She gets her shots. She makes shots for her teammates. Other teams have to know where she is at. The other girls love it, because they know if the other team is trying to take her away they will get opportunities.”
Emory Curnell has played a big role as well, especially since Christmas. According to Thompson, she’s hit at least one 3-pointer in every game over that span except for the first game against Richland Northeast. Madison Mickens uses her body well and knows how to distribute the ball. She had six assists in Flora’s home win over Westwood on January 5. Skylar McCray has hit more 3-pointers so far this year than she did all of last year. Tamira Delaney has not only added depth to the scoring column but has scored at critical times. In the game at Westwood, the two teams were tied 22-22 at halftime. On the first two possessions for A.C. Flora, she drove the baseline and hit a floater, and then she attacked the rim. Those two plays helped lead the Falcons to a 15-point win.
Krisian Mason and Jazmine McDonald Craft have provided quality depth off the bench.
On the other end of the court, A.C. Flora has been stifling at times. Since January 1 the Falcons have only allowed three opponents since January 1 to score more than 49 points; only one of those was in region play.
“One thing we preach is defense,” Thompson said. “We ask a lot from them on that side of the ball. We work on trapping, help side defense, and taking charges. We work on our defense because we believe that if we are having a bad day on offense but if we can hold the other team to between 30-40 points, we have a really good chance to win.”
Thompson credits Curnell, Delaney, and McCray with how well the defense has run. He said they spend a lot of time watching film and working on matchups for upcoming opponents.
The stage is set for a dramatic finish. Regardless of how it plays out, Ridge View and A.C. Flora will finish either first or second. While that takes some of the pressure off, with both teams being assured a first round home playoff game, that doesn’t mean the game will be taken lightly.
“A.C. Flora has been really, really good at boys’ basketball, football, and baseball. They’ve played for state titles in boys’ soccer and lacrosse and in girls’ lacrosse. That’s where we want to get,” Thompson said. “We want people to ask us questions about how we are doing. We want people to want to be a part of our program. We are starting to see that at the JV level. We want a region title. It’s one of our goals. To be able to win Friday on our home court would give them even more confidence. We are confident, not cocky. They don’t want to just meet their goals, they want to exceed them. They’re going to fight to get it done. They want to go into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams, to be the top dog in the region. That’s what it would mean to us. It’s one of the steps we want to get to.
“If it doesn’t work out, I feel bad for whoever gets us in the playoffs because I think it’ll make the girls even angrier. They love to be driven and pushed.”
A.C. Flora’s last region title was in 2007 In order to win the region, the Falcons need to win Friday’s game by three points or more. Ridge View wins the region and grabs the top seed with a win or a loss by one or two points.