The Marlboro County Bulldogs will kick off the region campaign Friday night as they host the Wilson Tigers.
Both the boys' and girls' teams enter the critical part of the schedule with optimism.
The Lady Bulldogs (10-1) have been rolling, blasting opponents with an impressive offensive attack. Junior Jasmine Norman and sophomore Tysonia Lowe have been lighting up the scoreboard, each averaging over 20 points per contest.
However, region play will raise the level of competition significantly. Last year, the Lady Bulldogs were not able to win a Region 6-4A contest.
All five of their region rivals have impressive records, led by North Myrtle Beach.
The Lady Chiefs are 12-1, with a championship in a Georgia holiday tournament.
Wilson, the Bulldogs' Friday night opponent, is 8-2 so far this season. Last year, the team reached the state quarterfinals with a 21-4 record. The Lady Tigers are replacing five seniors including star Loyal McQueen, who now plays for Georgia Tech.
Myrtle Beach, which reached the state semifinals last season, is also in something of a rebuilding year but is off to an 8-4 start.
Darlington (9-4) and Hartsville (8-6) also open region play with hopes of reaching the state playoffs.
Despite a tough schedule, the Lady Bulldogs are determined to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2014-15 season. A strong start against Wilson Friday night will be important in meeting that goal.
The Marlboro County boys have not been as dominant as their female counterparts but are off to their best start since the 2015-16 team reached the state semi-finals. The Bulldogs are off to a 9-5 start including the results of a preseason tournament and two holiday tourneys.
They have flexed their muscles in blowing out Cheraw and Scotland, but have shown a lack of consistency, falling to Cheraw and Purnell Swett after beating those opponents by double digits earlier.
North Myrtle Beach (12-0) and Darlington (12-3) are off to fantastic starts and look like the teams to beat in the region.
Wilson, last year's state runner-up, is off to a sluggish start but remains dangerous.
Friday night's contest with the Tigers will also be the return to the Dog House of former head coach Ken Spencer.
Spencer was the Bulldogs' head coach for eight seasons and led the 2001 team to the Class 4A state championship. Under his guidance, the Bulldogs also reached the state championship game in 2000 and 2005.
He had a 173-51 overall record with the Bulldogs, was a six-time winner of the region coach-of-the-year and led the team to six consecutive region crowns.
Spencer left Marlboro County following the 2005-06 season to coach in the college ranks. He served as an assistant at Winston-Salem State, head coach at St. Augustine University (Raleigh, NC), and as an assistant at South Carolina State. Most recently, he was the head coach at Fayetteville State University.
After last season, Spencer parted ways with Fayetteville State. When Wilson head coach Derrick McQueen stepped down to take the athletic director job at the school, he hired Spencer to take over the program.
The Tigers graduated 9 members of last year's state runner-up team, so Spencer is facing a rebuilding project with Wilson.
They lost to Lee Central and Darlington in the Pepsi Carolina Classic holiday tournament but cruised by Crestwood Tuesday night, 70-55. The win improved Wilson to 5-6 for the season.
The Bulldogs and Tigers will tip off after the girls' game, which starts at 6 p.m.
Marlboro County will then travel to Hartsville next Tuesday for another region contest.
Both Marlboro County varsity teams traveled to Dillon Wednesday evening. Those games were not complete at press time for this issue.