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A lot on the line for Trojans, Bearcats

Rock Hill travels across town tonight to play rival Northwestern in what pro wrestling calls a "loser leaves town" match.

But this is boys high school basketball. Instead, the loser faces a fate that was not on the map when the 2011-12 season started.

Rock Hill and Northwestern are tied for the fourth and final playoff berth awarded Region 3-AAAA. The winner advances to next week's first round of the state playoffs. The loser must turn in equipment and think about the game the rest of the school year.

The first three spots are taken: Gaffney, the region champ, followed by Lancaster and Spartanburg. The Bearcats and Trojans have been unable to put on a region run, and both enter tonight's game with 2-7 records in league play - well below preseason expectations.

Rock Hill started 14-1 but dropped seven of eight since.

"Both of us have struggled," Northwestern coach Mike Gossett said. "The game will be interesting. It will take on 32 minutes to get to the top of the mountain."

Clover also figures into the mix. If the Blue Eagles upset Lancaster, they go to the playoffs on the tiebreaker. Clover split with Rock Hill and Northwestern, and if the Blue Eagles beat Lancaster, they would be the only team of the three to do so.

A Clover loss leaves the spot to the Trojans and Bearcats.

At 15-8 overall, Rock Hill might appear to be favored over Northwestern (11-12), but in the first meeting in the first swing of region's home-and-away schedule, the Trojans won 52-51 on the Bearcats' court.

For Rock Hill to advance, the Bearcats will have to turn the table.

"You can't put much into our first game," Gossett said. "Rock Hill is an impressive team with three D-I prospects. Rock Hill can put five players on the floor, and did in our first meeting, who are 6-5 or better.

"We will have to box out and rebound to compete with them on the boards. ... We've lost our last three games, but we've been in them until the end."

The key to the first game was Northwestern's ability to play half court ball and slow the Bearcats' running game. Rock Hill coach Eric Rollings will counter that tonight with as full-court running attack.

Rock Hill is bigger inside and is led by a pair of 6-foot-5 post players in Jamel Jones (15.5 ppg) and Jaylen Reid (13.5 ppg.). Six-foot-six guard Eduardo Minuci averages 12.6 points per game.

Northwestern counters inside with a pair of 6-foot-5 post players, Rontavious McClure (13.2 ppg) and Mason Rudolph. The next two Trojans scorers are Keith Bell (11.5 ppg) and Jhante McMillan (7.8 ppg). McClure is the second-leading rebounder in the area with 8.5 per game.

The varsity girls game starts at 6:30 p.m.; varsity boys follow at 8 p.m.