Vinnie Emery has a feeling most folks who pay attention to such things are surprised at where his Hilton Head Christian Academy boys basketball team sits with two weeks left in the regular season.
Emery inherited a major rebuilding job -- or so it seemed -- when he took over the Eagles' program before this season, yet Hilton Head Christian enters tonight's home game against perennial power Pinewood Prep with a chance to make some major waves in the SCISAA Region 3-AAA title race.
"When you only play eight region games, every game is huge," Emery said. "One game can make the difference."
Tonight's game could be the one.
The Eagles (12-5 overall, 2-2 in SCISAA Region 3-AAA) are tied for third place in the region, but they're just one game behind Pinewood Prep and Porter-Gaud. They're riding a four-game winning streak -- a stretch that started with a 66-57 win at Pinewood Prep, which remains the Panthers' only region loss.
If that was the turning point, though, Emery hopes his team can continue to stay the course it has been on since its last loss, a 50-43 defeat at Hilton Head Prep on Jan. 11.
"Beating Pinewood was a huge step for us," Emery said. "We're continuing to grow and get better. The kids are understanding roles, and it really showed in that game. Beating Pinewood creates a sense of confidence that is a huge part of winning."
Senior guard JaBrook Tucker (16.9 points per game) and junior wing Taylor MacDonald (12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds per game) continue to serve as the Eagles' go-to players, but the emergence of several role players has been the key to the recent turnaround, Emery said.
To make a run at the region title, the Eagles will need them to keep it up. They have only three more region games after tonight, and two are on the road, so they're running out of time to make up ground.
A sweep of Pinewood Prep (14-9 overall, 3-1 in SCISAA Region 3-AAA) would be a huge boon; in addition to making up a game on the co-leaders, the Eagles also would gain an advantage in the case of a head-to-head tiebreaker.
"We know Pinewood's going to come down and they're going to be mad," Emery said. "Probably, they feel like they shouldn't have lost to us. They're going to come down ready to roll. We just need to be sure that we play the way that we want to play and don't get caught up in too much of that emotion."
TODAY'S AREA HIGH SCHOOL GAMES