Lady Eagles Coast into Semi-Finals

Junior guard Anna Cooke scores RWA’s first basket of the fourth quarter Monday against Calhoun.

Monday’s win number 27 over the Calhoun Lady Cavaliers, 43-27, earned the Richard Winn Lady Eagles a return trip to Sumter on Thursday (Feb. 21) to compete in the semi-final state playoff contest against the Lady Braves of Bible Baptist. The road to State began last Friday at Heathwood Hall in Columbia when head coach Jason Haltiwanger’s “tenacious 10” matched up against The King’s Academy from Florence in round one.

The somewhat lopsided final score, 49-18, clearly indicated that the Lady Eagles were serious about their quest to advance to the next round as they commanded a 17-1 first quarter lead over the Lady Lions of The King’s Academy. Employing their signature aggressive full court press and man-to-man defense, the Lady Eagles had little trouble caging the Lady Lion offense, holding the opponents to a measly five points during the first half of action. Meanwhile, the Lady Eagles took charge and converted their opponent’s turnovers to points, leading 25-5 at the break.

While the early game intensity waned slightly following the halftime break, the Lady Eagles managed to stay focused and continued to control the tempo and, more importantly, the scoreboard. The Winnsboro team fell just one point short of matching their first half total while holding the Lady Lions to a 13 point second half. Combined with their 20-point first half lead, the Lady Eagles widened their victory spread to 31 points behind the 18-point performance of team captain Carson Justice. Also in the zone offensively for the Lady Eagles was freshman Jaycie Johnson who added 14 points to the Lady Eagles’ total. All 10 of the RWA girls got significant playing time and seven of them inked points in the score book.

In addition to the double-digit scoring duo of Justice-Johnson, Jessie Stidham contributed six points, Alyssa Atkerson had four, Emily Brigman scored three and Anna Cooke and Bailey Taylor added two apiece.

Following Friday’s victory number 26, Haltiwanger set right to work formulating a new game plan for his team’s quarter final opponent, Calhoun Academy. Fortunately for both teams, they had already squared up against each other twice during the regular season, so both coaches and teams had a pretty good idea of what to expect in their third meeting at the bigger stage.

Haltiwanger noted that he was a bit surprised to see the Lady Cavaliers start Monday’s playoff game in a man-to-man defense against his team, particularly since Calhoun had played a zone defense in both prior meetings. However, the Lady Eagles’ quickness and early point production resulted in bringing their opponents out of the man defense after four or five possessions and back to Calhoun’s more typical, more effective 2-3 zone for the remainder of the game.

“Overall, I was pleased with our effort,” said Haltiwanger following his team’s latest victory. “I thought we played a good first half with lots of intensity. Our defensive game led to easy offensive baskets. Our defensive intensity definitely set up our offensive game.”

Richard Winn led 9-0 before the Lady Cavaliers scored their first two points with just 1:29 left in the first quarter. Johnson tapped the opening tipoff to a teammate, but before the Lady Eagles could set up their offense, a turnover was committed. However, RWA managed to get on track their next time down the court as they raced out to lead 5-0 after just a little over a minute had ticked off the clock.

Justice found Johnson open under the basket, and even though fouled in the act of shooting, Johnson made good on both the basket and the free throw to put RWA up 3-0. Johnson then added another two points on her team’s next offensive possession at the 6:52 mark. Justice swished a 3-pointer and then hit a 2-point basket during the final minute of the opening period to help put her team up 14-2 as the first quarter buzzer sounded.

The Lady Eagles’ full court press rattled the opponents, forcing them into turnovers that allowed the RWA team to convert into points on the scoreboard. By halftime Richard Winn led 30-8.

The Lady Cavaliers, making some good adjustments during the intermission, faced a second half Richard Winn team that had seemingly become complacent, and the momentum began to swing in favor of Calhoun who outscored RWA 19-13 in the second half. Part of Calhoun’s post halftime strategy was to play a triangle-two defense on Johnson to halt RWA’s inside game. This, however, now freed up Stidham to step up into the scoring spotlight for RWA, and she answered that call well, scoring eight of her 12 total points in the second half.

In reference to the game’s second half of action when several of his players got into foul trouble and Calhoun fiercely fought back, Haltiwanger said, “We’ve got to be smarter, and we need to play better in the second half. We’ve got to put a complete game together to get the next two wins and to claim the 2A state title.”

RWA got balanced double-digit scoring from Justice with 14 and from Johnson and Stidham who added 12 points each. Rounding out the books for the 43 point final tally were Marion Walker Coleman with three points and Cooke with two.

Bible Baptist of Savannah, Ga., were to be the Lady Eagles’ semi-final round opponent Thursday (Feb. 21) at 6:30 p.m. back at the Sumter Civic Center. The Lady Braves start four seniors and a sophomore and come into Thursday’s contest with a record of 14-5. The winner of that game will advance to the 2A state championship game on Saturday (Feb. 23) against the winner of the Marlboro-Palmetto Christian bracket. That title game will be played at 2:30 p.m. at the Sumter Civic Center.