Turn back the clock to 1992 and Josh Pittman can still remember how he celebrated winning that year’s Frank Spencer Holiday Classic with his East Forsyth teammates.
The Eagles took turns hoisting the championship trophy and there was, of course, the traditional ceremony of cutting down the nets at the Joel Coliseum Annex.
Pittman is hoping for a similar-type celebration late Thursday afternoon, but this one would be as the first-year coach at Winston-Salem Prep.
The third-seeded Phoenix advanced to the final with a 76-67 win against No. 7 North Forsyth and No. 5 South Stokes held off top-seeded Reagan 71-67 in the other semifinal of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools bracket on Wednesday afternoon.
Prep will take on South Stokes on Thursday at 3 p.m. in the championship game at North Forsyth, with Reagan battling North Forsyth for third place in a noon start at Reynolds High School.
So which would mean more to Pittman, winning as a player or a coach? The answer was easier than sinking a wide-open layup in practice.
“As a coach, definitely,” he said. “As a player you are out there working for the coach, but as a coach you have these young men believing what you are telling them. They do what you ask them to do every day. They work hard and they play hard and you just want them to succeed. You want to see them be happy.”
Standing in the way of the Phoenix is a scrappy, hustling, ball-hawking South Stokes team that has pulled off two upsets in this tournament. Is a third shocker in the cards?
Coach Jason Clark of the Sauras said he isn’t into making predictions, but he feels his team has already exceeded expectations.
“We’re playing with house money,” he said. “We’re not supposed to win. I just told our guys coming down here to let’s go out and win the first game. And that’s something South Stokes has never done before, win the first game of this tournament. The pressure is not on us. But we will play hard and play loose and play with confidence.”
There are two areas of concern for Clark as he prepares for a lightning-quick Prep team.
“We’ve got to rebound better than we did (against Reagan),” he said. “And we’ve got to contain their drives to the basket and make them beat us from the outside.”
Another worry for Clark is technical fouls. The South Stokes players have been hit with two technicals, one in the first round and one in the semifinals. “I told my kids that sooner or later you are going to feel bad if we lost by one point,” he said. “They are young and they just have to understand that they celebrate a play with their teammates, not in front of somebody else.”
Junior Hariston led South Stokes with 16 points and Nathaniel Sisk and Jonah Fie each had 15. Jalil Rogers of Reagan led all scorers with 25.
Sisk broke a 65-65 tie with a three-point play with just more than a minute on the clock and scored on a layup on a nifty pass from Hairston with 17 seconds left.
The Sauras’ game plan every time out is to try and run and Sisk doesn’t expect that to change against Prep.
“Oh yeah, we love to run,” he said. “That’s what we do.”
Yohance Connor led Prep with 20 points, Areon Matthews added 15 and Jay Penn and Micheal Jordan each had 14. Justin Covington led North with 28 points.
Penn also expects a fast pace from both teams.
“I feel like we are prepared for South Stokes,” he said. “We’re going to come out and play. We can run, both of us can run.”
South Stokes 26; 9; 19; 17; — 71
Reagan 10; 18; 17; 20; — 67
South Stokes (8-1): Junior Hairston 16, Moran 9, Isiah Lash 13, Nathaniel Sisk 15, Gallimore 2, Wilmoth 1
Reagan (6-4): Jalil Rogers 25, Collins 8, Noah Quarless 12, K.J. Ford 15, Leonard 5, Corbin 2
Up next: South Stokes: Winston-Salem Prep, 3 p.m., Thursday (at North Forsyth)
Reagan: North Forsyth, noon, Thursday (at Reynolds)
North 15; 12; 17; 23; — 67
Prep 17; 15; 16; 28; — 76
North Forsyth (5-6): Justin Covington 28, Graham 9, Hauser 5, Askia Smith 11, Samuels 9
Prep (6-2): Graves 7, Micheal Jordan 14, Jay Penn 14, Yohance Connor 20, Areon Matthews 15, Gonsalves 4
Up next: North: Reagan, noon, Thursday (at Reynolds)
Prep: South Stokes, 3 p.m., Thursday, (at North Forsyth)