Believe it or not, the playoffs are here for high school basketball. The season has flown by, with holiday tournaments bleeding into region play and even resulting in a few extra games to determine playoff seeding.


In that blur of activity, the Aiken-area schools have done very well. Of 20 possible local boys’ and girls’ basketball teams, 15 have advanced to the postseason. Of that group, five of the teams are region or co-region champions, with four taking top seeds in their portion of the South Carolina High School League postseason draw.


But what they’ve accomplished to this point won’t mean anything without more wins.


“It’s a fresh start,” Aiken High boys coach Tony Harrell said, with a warning. “Your next loss is your last one.”


Here’s a look at who’s in, what their seed is, who they’ll play in the first round, where the games will be played and when they’ll tip off.


BOYS

Class AAAA


• No. 1 North Augusta vs. No. 4 Richland Northeast


Wednesday, 7 p.m.


North Augusta finished the season with a flourish, winning its last five games to claim a share of the Region 5-AAAA title with Lexington. The Yellow Jackets (17-6, 7-3) owned the tiebreaker and are the top seed coming out of the region.


The team with balanced scoring and tremendous athleticism that allows it to play shut-down defense will open the postseason on Wednesday, at home against Richland Northeast (15-7). Should North Augusta advance, it will play host to the winner of the contest between Fort Dorchester and West Ashley on Saturday. Expect the Yellow Jackets to try and get the ball to big man Tavarez Hall, but prolific athletes TJ Sheppard, Steve Copeland, Malik Dunbar and up-and-coming guard Christian Davis are all capable of taking over.


• No. 3 Aiken at No. 2 Conway


Wednesday, 7 p.m.


For most of the season, Aiken High looked like the team to beat in Region 5-AAAA. But the end of the season hasn’t been kind to the Hornets (16-8, 6-4), who will have a tough row to hoe if they’re going to make it back to the Lower State championship game.


They fell out of a tie for first in the region after a tough loss to Lexington on Feb. 1. They followed that with a gut-punch loss to North Augusta last Tuesday, when the Yellow Jackets erased a 10-point deficit in the final four minutes to steal a win on the road.


Aiken finished the regular season with a win over crosstown rival South Aiken, but that came at a high price.


Already without star big man Dramel Coleman because of an injury, the Hornets will now be without top scorer Shawn Moore, who’s averaging about 24 points per game, and another big in Stacy Toole for Wednesday’s playoff opener at Conway (17-7) – at least.


That’s because both were involved in an altercation in the win over South Aiken and have been suspended at least one game. Should Aiken pull off an unexpected win, shorthanded and on the road, it will either travel to top-seeded Goose Creek, or play host to Beaufort on Saturday.


Class AAA


• No. 1 Strom Thurmond vs. No. 4 Hanahan


Tuesday, 7 p.m.


No. 2 Midland Valley vs. Hilton Head Island


Tuesday, 7 p.m.


Strom Thurmond has been one of the best teams in Region 5-AAA all season but looked like it might have to settle for the league’s No. 2 seed after Thursday. That’s because the Rebels (18-7, 8-2) not only lost their regular-season finale to Midland Valley, but also the services of big man Daquarius Johnson, one of their best players. Johnson severely hurt his left ankle and is likely out for the playoffs.


The loss forced a tie with Midland Valley, making both co-region champs.


But rather than settle the top spot with an arbitrary tiebreaker, the teams played an extra game to see which would get the No. 1 seed.


Playing on a neutral court at Aiken High, the Rebels prevailed on a last-second putback by Josh Hamilton and will play host to a struggling Hanahan (6-15) team on Tuesday.


Midland Valley (17-9, 8-2) will still open the playoffs at home, but will face a stiffer challenge against Hilton Head Island (13-11). The good news for the Mustangs is down the stretch of the season, it looked like Kameron Brown and Daniel Carr improved already solid games and are reliable sources of offense to go along with stalwarts Javoddis Coach, Jaquan Hall and Latrell Lee. Should Midland Valley win, it will play on Friday against the winner of the game between No. 1 Hartsville and No. 4 Georgetown. A Strom Thurmond victory would also mean a Friday game at home against either Darlington or Wilson.


Class AA


• No. 3 Silver Bluff at No. 2 Battery Creek


Wednesday, 7 p.m.


Silver Bluff (11-10, 6-4) struggled down the stretch but still performed well enough this season to get Region 5-AA’s third seed. The Bulldogs are a dangerous opponent in the playoffs because of their streaky shooting. All season, they’ve lived and died by the 3-pointer.


Should they catch fire, an upset of Battery Creek (13-10) is very possible, with shooters like Donte Wright, Jaylen Lawrence and Jalen Jackson taking aim. A first-round upset would either send Silver Bluff home to play Ridgeland-Hardeeville, or more likely lead to their third matchup with Calhoun County. The Bulldogs won the first meeting but lost by three in the most recent contest that propelled Calhoun to the region title.


Class A


• No. 1 Fox Creek vs. No. 4 McBee at Riverview Park Activities Center


Tuesday, 7 p.m.


• No. 2 Wagener-Salley vs. No. 3 C.A. Johnson


Tuesday, 7 p.m.


• No. 4 Ridge Spring-Monetta at No. 1 Lewisville


Tuesday, 7 p.m.


No team In Region 4-A was more impressive this season than Fox Creek, which dominated opponents. The Predators (18-6) went a perfect 12-0 against region foes, which included some talented teams, including playoff entrants Wagener-Salley and Ridge Spring-Monetta.


Fox Creek has overcome the loss of its top shooter – Deondre Baskett – to an injury and has showed it’s a balanced, versatile and winning club. It has players like Marques Sumner, Brandyn Quiller and Chris Harmon who can lead the team on any given night. They’ll be asked to continue to play at a high level on Tuesday when they host McBee (7-15) at Riverview Park Activities Center in North Augusta. A win would mean another game there against either McCormick or Southside Christian.


Wagener-Salley might have more superlative players than even Fox Creek but finished second to the Predators in the region. The War Eagles (14-9, 8-4) are led by dynamic big man RJ Tyler, explosive guard Malcolm Stroman as well as versatile contributors Gregg Hicks and Duane Davenport.


They’ll all need to avoid a let down Tuesday when they host C.A. Johnson (6-11). A War Eagle win would mean a trip to Ware Shoals on Friday or a home game against St. Joseph’s.


Ridge Spring-Monetta (8-13) scooped up the region’s final playoff berth, and will be rewarded with a trip to Lewisville (11-11). While the Trojans haven’t been consistent this season, they’ve shown the ability to go on hot streaks and have a player in Mike Jones who’s as good as most in Class A.


GIRLS

Class AAAA


• No. 2 Aiken vs. No. 3 Blythewood


Tuesday, 7 p.m.


• No. 3 North Augusta at No. 2 Carolina Forest


Tuesday, 7 p.m.


Aiken and North Augusta finished the season tied for second in Region 5-AAAA behind defending state champion Dutch Fork. Not bad considering the Silver Foxes went a perfect 24-0 and look to be on their way to another state title. But the Hornets (16-7, 6-4) won the tiebreaker with the Yellow Jackets (12-6, 6-4) by virtue of having a better point differential against region rivals.


That means Aiken, led by senior guard Erin Gilmore, will open the playoffs at home on Tuesday against Blythewood (16-8). The Mallory Stone-led North Augusta squad must venture across the state to Myrtle Beach, but they’ll play a struggling Carolina Forest (7-15) team when they get there.


Should Aiken win, it will either go to Summerville or play host to West Florence on Friday. A North Augusta victory would mean another trip to West Ashley or a home game against Fort Dorchester.


Class AAA


• No. 2 Strom Thurmond vs. No. 3 Hanahan


Today, 7 p.m.


• No. 4 Midland Valley at No. 1 Orangeburg-Wilkinson


Tuesday, 6 p.m.


The Strom Thurmond girls were under the radar for much of the season but finished strong. The Rebels (14-6, 8-2) won most of their big games and finished second in Region 5-AAA. They have balanced scoring, led by players like Shay Widener and Chesnee Robinson, and will play host to Hanahan (16-7) tonight. A win would mean a Thursday game either at Crestwood or home against Georgetown.


It was a challenging season for first-year Midland Valley head coach Carl Prescott, but he was able to guide the Mustangs (8-14, 4-6) back to the playoffs. With senior Alexis bates leading the team, it improved through the course of the season.


Midland valley’s reward might be a short trip to the postseason. It will open play on Tuesday at 6 p.m. on the road against Orangeburg-Wilkinson (23-1). The Bruinettes came close to beating a power from Virginia, and they’ve dominated most of their opponents after being reclassified from Class AAAA, where it made it to the state title game last season. Don’t expect the Mustangs to pull off the upset and travel to the winner of Myrtle Beach and Hartsville on Thursday.


Class AA


• No. 2 Silver Bluff vs. No. 3 Battery Creek


Tuesday, 7 p.m.


The Silver Bluff girls had a chance to win Region 5-AA but couldn’t prevail in either of its final two games of the regular season, the last one an extra game against Wade Hampton to determine the region champion. Because of that, the Bulldogs (14-7, 8-2) are the No. 2 seed, and they’ll play the same squad their male counterparts are opening the playoffs against – Battery Creek (16-8). Unlike the boys, the Silver Bluff girls will play at home. Should they win Tuesday’s game, they’ll either go to Bishop England or host Bamberg-Ehrhardt on Friday.


Class A


No. 1 Ridge Spring-Monetta vs. No. 4 Great Falls


Today, 7 p.m.


No. 2 Fox Creek vs. No. 3 C.A. Johnson


Ridge Spring-Monetta got off to a slow start in non-region play, but kicked in high gear when it was facing a Region 4-A foe. The Trojans were a perfect 12-0 in region play to boost them to a 18-5 overall record.


Now they need players like Ebony Hines, Porsha Quattlebaum and Ty’Miyah Tyler to continue to execute at such a high level against another non-region foe. They should be able to when they open the playoffs against Great Falls (1-12). A likely win will mean another home game Thursday against the winner of the game between Dixie and Brashier Middle College.


One of the teams that fell victim to the Trojans was Fox Creek, which played well enough against the rest of the schedule to finish second in the region. The Predators (11-10, 9-3) will open the playoffs at home tonight against C.A. Johnson (7-12). A win would have Fox Creek playing at McCormick or hosting Greenville Tech on Thursday.


Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.