FOR THE CHRONICLE
It was fitting that Winston-Salem Prep held steady in spite of dire circumstances in last weekend’s Class 1-A state championship game against East Carteret. For most of the fourth quarter, four Phoenix starters were saddled with foul problems. It didn’t help matters that Prep’s usually suffocating defensive pressure had no dependable remedy to shut down long-range shooters Sam Johnson and Trevor Willis.
Johnson drilled a 3-pointer with 22 seconds to go and East Carteret went up 71-70. At that point, Prep’s two-year reign as state champs was in serious jeopardy.
Enter Kwa’tre Hollingsworth. With three seconds left on the game clock, Will Tibbs launched a 3-pointer that was wide of the mark. Hollingsworth, a junior guard, grabbed the offensive rebound and while still in mid-air, kissed a follow-shot off the glass to deliver a 72-71 victory.
It was a heart-thumping way for the Phoenix to win its third straight state championship. But it was far from being easy. Prep’s best player, Mike Hughes, fouled out with 4:06 remaining. In spite of his absence and other sub-par indicators – 20 turnovers committed; 58.3 percent free-throw shooting – Prep found a way to prevail.
Hughes, who has signed with Georgia Southern, emerged as the championship game MVP for the third year in a row. Hughes finished with 17 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Hollingsworth added 12 points, while Omar Roseboro and Tibbs contributed 11 points each.
Aaron Lipscomb is one of several seniors who closed out their careers with a state championship three-peat. Lipscomb, a shooting guard who scored 9 points in the state final, expected his team to make a return trip to the championship game.
“To win it again feels real good,” said Lipscomb, who scored over 1,000 points during his time at WS Prep. “There aren’t too many teams in North Carolina who have ever done what we’ve done. All season long, we kept reminding ourselves that if we just take care of business on a game-by-game basis, we’d get the chance to get No. 3,” he said. “We knew that nobody was going to give us anything. You have to earn it and that’s what we did.”
Winston-Salem Prep’s regular season featured its share of speed bumps and potholes. An epidemic of injuries kept the Phoenix from getting full use of its typically-deep 12-player roster. It wasn’t until the final week-and-a-half of the regular season that Prep finally had a healthy team, which included seven seniors.
“There were more trials and tribulations than in the past,” said Coach Andre Gould, whose team finished the season at 26-4. “We had so many injuries. But that also created a situation for others to get some playing time and gain confidence. Our seniors came through in a big way. They taught the young bucks what it takes to contend and win. This season was a different journey for this group.”