By Steve Keenan
For The Register-Herald
This time a year ago, the Fayetteville High girls took a collective punch to the gut, losing to rival Midland Trail in a Class A Region 3 basketball co-final and seeing their state tournament hopes dashed as the Patriots achieved theirs.
It will be a different opponent Thursday, but the Pirates aim to prevent that scenario from repeating itself. Fayetteville (17-6) hosts Man (14-10) in a Region 3 co-final contest at 7 p.m. at the Fayette County Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building, with the winner punching a ticket to the eight-team single-A state tournament next week.
The loser puts away the uniforms and sneakers for the season, and that’s a feeling Fayetteville senior Erica Hogan doesn’t want to have this time around. While acknowledging the disappointment experienced at the end of 2011-12, Hogan says her team has responded well and has enjoyed a good season.
“We realized we had to work harder and be more focused and work better as a team,” said Hogan, who averages 6.3 points and 10.2 rebounds an outing. “I think we’re all working really good together.
“It (her senior year) has been a fun experience; it better not end Thursday.”
“They’ve got an all-state player (senior Summer Sword),” Fayetteville coach John Mark Kincaid said of the Hillbillies. “Coaches tell me they’re similar to Valley. We don’t know much, but it sounds like it’s going to be one of those (close) games. Being home should give us a little advantage.”
“Our goal is to shut her (Sword) down and (stop) their point guard,” said Hogan.
“We’re playing well,” Kincaid added. “The girls were stunned last year, so at practice this year, (seniors) Jess (Jessica Brown, leading with 22.6 points and 12.7 rebounds a game) and Erica have been pretty focused (and guided the younger players).”
Fayetteville, which is seeking its first state tournament trip since 2008-09, defeated Midland Trail 53-43 and Valley 53-49 to get to this point.
In Section 1 competition, Man advanced by defeating Sherman 52-22 before losing to Tug Valley 58-37.
In the other Region 3 co-final, Tug Valley (15-8) will host Valley (12-7), also at 7 p.m. tonight.
The Panthers advanced with section wins over Montcalm (58-32) and Man (58-37). The Greyhounds defeated Meadow Bridge 63-53 before falling to Fayetteville a week ago in the championship contest.
Valley will be led into action by senior Alexis Payne (24.8 points per game), sophomore Abby Buchan (19.3 ppg, 29 3-pointers) and junior Kelsey Bird (7.4 ppg).
Valley will be seeking its first state tournament appearance since the 1991-92 school year.
The two co-final winners will make up one-fourth of the Class A state tournament field.
— E-mail: skeenan@