Undermanned Warriors outlast Stags in state quarterfinals

Undermanned Warriors outlast Stags in state quarterfinals

Jeff Emory was exhausted by the end of it all, hunched over with his hands on his knees. Moisture had begun to build on his glasses. His hair was disheveled, his forehead sweating, his cheeks bright red. The tail of his shirt had come untucked and was hanging loose underneath a sweater that too was drenched.

“Hey,” the Wando basketball coach let out before taking an extended pause to try to catch his breath. “This is playoff basketball.”

Wando outlasted Berkeley, 31-27, in the Class AAAAA girls state quarterfinals Monday in Mount Pleasant.

The second-seeded Warriors will face defending state champion Goose Creek in the Lower State championship game Saturday at the Florence Civic Center.

“This is a tough group. They showed that tonight,” Emory said. “They’re a seasoned group. The past two games have been tough and they’re still here.”

Wando entered averaging 52 points per game. The Warriors hadn’t scored less than 43 points in any win this season. Second-leading scorer Dylan Silber was sidelined with an elbow injury, though, and senior starter Maddie Davidson left the game with a knee injury in the second quarter. Junior forward Miriam Berle took a shot to the face in the third quarter and didn’t return. Together, the three average nearly 20 points per game.

“It was really difficult tonight with the injuries we had but we have a lot of girls who can come in and know what they’re doing,” Wando senior forward Elizabeth Eads said. “We were all really determined to get this win.”

Eads put Wando ahead, 25-23, with a layup two minutes into the fourth quarter. She pulled down a rebound a minute later and found her sister, Katherine, for an open layup that pried open a 27-23 advantage — Wando’s largest lead of the game.

Berkeley climbed back, though, with a jumper from Skylar Scott and a layup by Peighton Jambor that evened the score at 27-all with two minutes to play. Eads answered, this time rolling around a screen and sinking a midrange pull-up with 90 seconds to play that pushed the Warriors ahead for good.

“We practice that every day at practice,” Eads said of her late, go-ahead basket. “I just know that if I’m open, and it’s there, that I should shoot it because it’ll go in.”

Wando and Berkeley both managed just two made field goals in the opening quarter that ended with the score even, 5-5. Points were just as tough to come by in the second, as Wando landed just one basket and Berkeley went nearly three minutes into the quarter without scoring. The Stags found four quick points in the final 15 seconds to take a 14-11 lead into halftime.

“We weren’t crisp enough. We were just throwing some lollipops out there,” Emory said. “We cleaned up some of those mistakes and did a better job of moving the ball in the second half and started to find some rhythm.”

Warriors senior guard Deveney Curry provided the rhythm in the third quarter, knocking down three three-pointers — two back to back that turned a four-point deficit into a two-point lead in about 40 seconds. Even Katherine Eads sank a three, just her fourth of the season, to help the Warriors take a two-point edge into the final eight minutes.

Curry finished with a game-high 13 points. Elizabeth Eads scored 10 and Katherine added seven. Together the three seniors scored all but one of Wando’s 31 points.

“This game meant a lot, especially to our seniors who haven’t been this far (in the playoffs) before,” Elizabeth Eads said. “We were ready to do whatever it takes.”

Now awaiting the Warriors is yet another chance at Goose Creek. The Gators blasted River Bluff, 61-26, in their quarterfinal matchup on Monday.

Goose Creek has won seven straight region championships, six with Wando finishing in second place. It’s been at least 14 years since the Warriors have defeated the Gators. It’s been 40 years since Wando has been to a state championship game.

“But if we can get healthy, if we can get right, maybe we go up there and give them a push,” Emory said. “We have a lot of respect for (Goose Creek). But maybe someone else can bring one home for a change.”

Who knows? It is, after all, playoff basketball.