Jacksonville, NC | March 1, 2013
By Chris Miller-Prep Sports Writer
Coach Kevin Popadines has been confident in his Lejeune girls' basketball team since the start of the season. And the Devilpups certainly haven't disappointed their first-year coach as Lejeune (24-0) has steamrolled most of its competition en route to tonight's NCHSAA 1-A sectional final at home against James Kenan (21-4).
"We definitely had the capability (of going to the sectional final)," Popadines said. "It was just a matter of how focused we stayed. We are there now. So it's just a matter of moving on from here." The top-seeded Devilpups don't plan on stopping. With a victory over fifth-seeded James Kenan, Lejeune will advance to the East Regional semifinal in Fayetteville next week.
The Devilpups and Tigers tip off tonight at 6 p.m. aboard Camp Lejeune. "I think it will (help) a little bit being at home," Popadines said. "I think we are ready to go." Still, Popadines knows a win over James Kenan won't be easy for the Devilpups, the champion of the Coastal Plains Conference.
The Tigers finished second in the Tri-County Conference behind second-seeded Lakewood (28-1), which plays host to No. 3 East Columbus tonight in the other sectional final. James Kenan is coming off a 61-55 victory over No. 4 Goldsboro on Wednesday.
"I know they are going to press us and that they like to get out and run," Popadines said of James Kenan. "We are going to have to pass out of their press and we can't put our heads down and dribble out of the press. We are going to have to bring our 'A' game. That's for sure."
Given the Tigers' pressure, a lot of responsibility will fall to Lejeune sophomore point guard Nikia Wallace, who has provided the Devilpups solid play from that position all season. She's been reliable in that she doesn't turn the ball over a lot and that she finds open teammates for scoring chances. "She's maturing," Popadines said. "She's not really a young player anymore. I think she will be ready to step up and lead us moving forward."
Senior guard Chatori Major has been the leader for Lejeune throughout the season. She averages 23 points per game. The Tigers will likely want to force Major to give the ball up, which means other Lejeune players such as senior center Chryssandra Tatum, senior guard Amber Overton and sophomore forward Lala Lee will be looked upon to play well.
Overall, Popadines hopes his team come out strong, something the Devilpups didn't necessarily do Wednesday night in a 63-43 second-round victory over South Robeson. Lejeune managed to pull away with a 21-4 third quarter. "If we play like we did in the second half, we will have a good chance of moving on," Popadines said. "It's done if we lose. I hope to see the light bulb turn on."