Saturday, March 8, 2014
It started in November with a blossoming young coach optimistic enough to believe the ultimate was possible.
He sold his team on a goal that had never been accomplished by its school, and his players bought in.
A preseason rankings snub was motivation. Midseason adversity was fuel. And then, on the biggest postseason stage of all, a historical win was the payoff.
The Wando Warriors defeated the Hillcrest Rams, 65-50, in the Class 4A championship game Friday at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia to capture the first boys basketball state title in school history.
Warriors head coach David Eaton praised his players, his staff, the community that supported them and the teams that came before. Then he looked over at his players as they celebrated with a glistening state championship trophy hoisted in the air and gold medals dangling from their necks and realized what they really were.
“This is the best Wando basketball team ever,” Eaton said. “They did it. These guys came out and proved it. They always believed in themselves, in what we were trying to accomplish and they came out and did it tonight.”
Hillcrest rode an 8-0 run to cut Wando’s lead to 10 with three minutes to play in the fourth quarter. With a championship hanging in the balance, Eaton called his team to the sideline for some final motivation.
“Coach just told us to man up,” Wando center Matt Pegram said. “He said ‘we’re not trying to hold off a lead. We’re trying to win this game.’ We needed that and we went back out and finished the job.”
Warriors forward Taylor Majewski scored five straight points out the timeout, Pegram pinned a block against the backboard and Wando closed on a 15-10 run to seal the win.
Jamez Rogers led all scorers with 25 for Wando. Amp Moore added 13, Andrew Glover 11 and Majewski turned in seven points and eight boards. Pegram finished with nine points, 15 rebounds and four blocks. Wando dominated the boards, outrebounding Hillcrest 48-26.
“They’re a great team, but we felt like we were better,” Glover said. “We were doing it all season long but to do it in the biggest game of the year just speaks very highly of our team.”
The Rams controlled the lead until the three-minute mark of the second quarter, using its pressure to force 12 turnovers in the first half. Wando needed a spark; Rogers provided it. With his team trailing by two, the all-state sophomore drained a three from the wing to give the Warriors their first lead since the first basket of the game. Wando never trailed again.
“I just felt like no one could stop me,” Rogers said.
He went on to score the next seven points of the game. Wando opened the second half on a 15-5 run that Rogers capped with a dunk. He scored 10 points in the third quarter. Wando scored 20 points in the first half, then reeled off 25 in the third quarter to take a 15-point lead into the fourth.
After shooting 30 percent from the field in the first half, Wando connected on 68 percent in the second. The Warriors made just one of seven threes through the first two quarters but rained in seven of 11 through the final 16 minutes.
Randall Shaw led Hillcrest with 16 points on 6-21 shooting while Tyler Hooker added 14 on 5-20. Hillcrest was limited to 28 percent shooting and just 18 percent from three.
“When we led by 15 in the fourth quarter, for a second I thought, are you kidding me?” Eaton said. “They were cold, but I really thought we caused them to go cold. We kept a hand in their face and made it difficult for them all night.”
Now Wando sits alone atop high school basketball in South Carolina. It can finally claim a championship it’s never been able to. This year’s team will be remembered for doing something no other Wando boys basketball team ever has. This year’s team will be remembered as the best Wando boys basketball team ever.