Wando and Hillcrest face off in 4A state championship

  • Thursday, March 6, 2014

Wando head coach David Eaton and his Warriors are just one game away from winning the program’s first state championship. FRANKIE MANSFIELD

Two weeks ago Wando set a plan. Five wins, one by one.

Friday night at the Colonial Life Arena, the Warriors have a chance to capture that fifth win when they collide with the Hillcrest Rams for the Class 4A state championship.

It would be a monumental win to culminate an already historic season. The Warriors captured the school's first boys basketball Lower State title last Friday in Florence to earn the opportunity to play for the school's first state championship this Friday in Columbia.

“It's a big opportunity for us,” Wando head coach David Eaton said. “It just shows how hard these guys have worked all year to get to this point.”

Wando and Hillcrest have just eight losses between them this season. Two of Wando's losses came against national standouts in a Christmas tournament. Three of Hillcrest's came within a two-week span as they scrambled to replace an injured starting guard. Neither team has lost in the past four weeks.

Wando (24-4) defeated Beaufort, Lexington, Dutch Fork and Sumter in the playoffs by an average margin of 15 points per win. Hillcrest (25-4) beat Spartanburg, Dorman, Byrnes and Irmo by eight points per game, and has won its last three by three, six and two points.

Speed vs. size

Hillcrest plays a high-tempo style, pushing the ball up the floor at every opportunity to utilize their smaller, quicker guards. The Rams like to apply full-court 1-2-1-1 pressure but will often ease off if it's not forcing turnovers. Wando doesn't mind pushing the tempo but will have a decisive height advantage through all five starters Friday. The Warriors have a variety of defensive sets, but Eaton says he's comfortable with his team's man-on-man defense using its size and length against Hillcrest's speed.

Warriors center Matt Pegram's ability to control the paint could be a huge factor in the game's outcome. Pegram stands nearly 6 feet 10 inches (five inches taller than any Hillcrest starter) and has taken over quarters of games this season with his rebounding, shot blocking and scoring. Sumter's guards were able to lure Pegram into foul trouble in the Lower State title game, something Eaton and Pegram hope to avoid Friday.

“It's a weird matchup with our size and their quickness,” Eaton said. “We've done a pretty good job of staying in front of quick guys and using our length to block shots this season.

“Pegram can score even when the other team is playing good defense and that really breaks the other team's back. We want to get him the ball, but besides scoring, he changes shots, starts our fast break and cleans up the lane for us. We need him out there.”

Star power

Hillcrest starts and stops with junior guards Tyler Hooker and Randall Shaw. The two can combine for 40 points on any given night. Shaw is a 6-foot-2 all-state shooter who knocked down five threes in the Rams' Upper State title win. Hooker is a 5-foot-10 slashing point guard who likes to attack the rim and get to the line. Both love to move off screens. As one Class 4A Region I coach put it, “If you can slow Shaw and Hooker, you probably win the game.”

Wando counters with all-state sophomore forward Jamez Rogers. At 6 foot 4, Rogers can shoot from outside, drive to the rim and is excellent under the boards. He's one of Wando's best at creating his own looks. Against Sumter, he was limited to four first-half points but quickly heated up with 11 in the second half, including a clutch 3-pointer in the fourth quarter.

Depth

Rams head coach Reggie Choplin doesn't typically go too far into his bench, while Eaton can cycle players and lose little. Hillcrest plays six or seven but has several viable shooters. Wando had eight players score in the Lower State title game and played 10.

Starting forward Darius White is the X-factor for Hillcrest with his double-double ability. White is Hillcrest's tallest starter at 6 foot 4 and its only true post presence. He rebounds well and can score (14 points against Irmo) but isn't counted on to create a lot of his own opportunities.

Warriors starting point guard Amp Moore is a handful for defenders at 6 foot 4 with his speed and shooting ability. Starters Andrew Glover and Taylor Majewski are both long-range threats who can rebound and make Wando nearly unstoppable if both are hitting from outside. Trevor Behrens is a spark plug point guard off the bench and Jack DeLongchamps is a slender but solid post presence.

“Our guys are enjoying the moment right now,” Eaton said. “We want our guys to go in there and look at the crowd and soak it up a little bit. We want them to enjoy themselves and enjoy playing there. And then after the game is over, enjoy the win.”

Tipoff is at 8:30 p.m. Admission is $10, ages 5 and under are free, and only SCHSL passes will be accepted. The game will be broadcast locally on 98.9 FM ESPN and streamed lived at www.nfhsnetwork.com.

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