Remembering when lightning struck twice for Gaston County basketball teams on back-to-back nights in March 1985
By Richard Walker
Ever since the first documented basketball game was played in Gaston County in January 1911, the sport has held a special place in local sports history.
That was particularly true during arguably the best weekend in the athletic history in Gaston County in March 1985.
For a county that’s produced nine boys basketball state champions and six eventual NBA players, two of those boys basketball titles came on back-to-back nights in Greensboro that year.
On March 22 at the Greensboro Coliseum, Cherryville won its first and only boys basketball state title by downing Whiteville 82-75. The following night, Hunter Huss won the second of its three state titles in a 40-37 victory over Fayetteville E.E. Smith.
The teams took different paths to their titles, though both played under pressure and defeated talented teams with future standouts.
Cherryville was a preseason favorite to win its title under first-year head coach David Watkins.
With a lineup that included five future college athletes – guards Jay Moss (North Carolina junior varsity) and Tony Griggs (Gardner-Webb), forwards Terry Whisnant (North Carolina football) and Kenny Poston (N.C. State) and center Craig Roberts (Catawba fooball) – the Ironmen were eager to win after going 27-3 in 1984.
In 1985, only a loss in the finals of The Raleigh Times Tip-Off tournament to 4A power Raleigh Broughton kept Cherryville from an unbeaten season. And the Ironmen played that game without leading scorer Terry Whisnant due to his participation in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas football game.
After the loss, Cherryville won its last 26 games including back-to-back wins over teams with future standout athletes.
In the 1985 Western N.C. 2A championship game at Lenoir-Rhyne’s Shuford Gymnasium, Cherryville edged Siler City Jordan-Matthews 74-67 in overtime. Jordan-Matthews featured future Wake Forest standout Robert Siler.
In the finals, Cherryville beat an even more talented team. Whiteville featured future future major leaguer Patrick Lennon, future NFL player Chester McGlockton and future Lenoir-Rhyne basketball standout Tim Southern. But Griggs scored 17 points and Poston 16 to overcome Lennon’s game-high 19 points. (Five months later, Lennon would play in the 1985 American Legion baseball Southeast Regional at Cherryville’s Fraley Field.)
Huss was under far greater pressure as the Huskies of coach G.C. Harrill had to win their conference tournament just to advance to the state playoffs. And they followed up on the 69-50 victory over McDowell County for the old Western Conference tournament championship with state playoff wins over Greensboro Grimsley (59-57), West Charlotte (65-62), Myers Park (63-54) and E.E. Smith (40-37) for their championship.
Huss trailed at some point during each of their last seven games – all win or go home contests – but survived to win every time.
An undersized but defensive-minded team, Harrill started Reggie Ampley, Larry Wood, Chris Davidson and twins Daryl Floyd and Dirk Floyd.
The Floyds were cousins of Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, a future NBA star and a standout on Huss’ 1977 state title team.
In the championship game against an E.E. Smith team led by future Duke standout Robert Brickey, Huss trailed 33-28 after three quarters before rallying for the victory.
Dirk Floyd had 14 points and Davidson 10 points and 14 rebounds to lead Huss, which limited Brickey to six points.
By winning their titles, Cherryville and Huss joined Stanley (1941 Class B), Cramerton (1944 and 1945 Class B), Gastonia Ashley (1967 4A) and Huss (1977 4A) as Gaston County state champions. In the years since, Gaston Day (2004 N.C. Independent 1A) and Huss (2011 3A) have won state titles.