State Champs: Lady Eagles Bring Home Hardware

Richard Winn Academy head girls’ basketball coach Jason Haltiwanger takes down the net following Saturday’s title victory.

Marion Walker Coleman (12) and Emily Brigman box out as Jaycie Johnson puts up a shot in the paint.

In a game in which they never trailed, the Richard Winn Academy Lady Eagles varsity basketball squad wrapped up their 2012-2013 season by bringing home the SCISA Class 2A state title Saturday with a 46-31 victory over the Marlboro Academy Lady Dragons at the Civic Center in Sumter.

Junior Carson Justice led the Lady Eagles to the Promised Land with 25 points. Jaycie Johnson, Jessie Stidham and Alyssa Atkerson added six points each, while Emily Brigman put up three.

Richard Winn head coach Jason Haltiwanger, reflecting on his first SCISA title, credited a higher power for his team’s success.

“We serve a good God, and that’s our motto,” Haltiwanger said. “We play unto the Lord, and these girls understand that. He went all out for us, so we go all out for Him. They understand that and play for that.”

After dropping last year’s title game, 46-42 to Heyward Academy, and losing all-star center Alex Maass, 2012-2013 was expected to be a rebuilding season for the Lady Eagles. But in spite of starting two juniors, a sophomore, a freshman and an eighth-grader, and with two sophomores, two freshmen and an eighth-grader coming off the bench, Richard Winn put doubters to rest with a 29-1 record and a convincing championship win.

“We had good leadership from our past,” Haltiwanger said. “We had Alex (Maass) last year, an unbelievable leader, and they followed that example. The guards stepped up and led for us, we had good coaching and good genes – a lot of these parents were state champions over here and their daughters play for us.”

Both teams got out of the gate slowly Saturday, with the game scoreless into the 5:37 mark when Atkerson finally broke the ice with a 2-point bucket on an in-bounds play. A steal and layup by Justice on the ensuing in-bounds play gave the Lady Eagles an early 4-0 lead. Atkerson scored the final points of the quarter with a layup at the buzzer, giving Richard Winn a 10-7 edge after one.

It was a slightly different look for the Lady Eagles’ defense Saturday, as Haltiwanger eschewed their standard full-court pressure for a more traditional look.

“They were used to their bigs, their post players, to bring it up, which causes a problem,” Haltiwanger explained. “If their guards bring it up, we can put a lot of pressure, but they knew that so they brought their post players up to handle the ball and that made it tough for us to put a lot of pressure on them like that.”

With 6 minutes to go in the second, Justice nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key, opening up the flood gates for the Lady Eagles, who out-scored Marlboro 14-9 in the period. Up 24-16 at the half, the Lady Eagles built a 10-point lead early in the third quarter. But with 5:16 to go, Marlboro Academy’s McKalyn Pruitt slipped through the half-court trap and laid in a 2-pointer. It was the first points for the Lady Dragons since the 2:36 point in the second quarter and began a run that cut the Lady Eagles’ lead to 26-22 by the 4:07 mark. Justice ended the Eagles’ drought with a 3-pointer with 3:45 to play in the period, but the Lady Dragons were on a tear. With 2:11 to play in the third, Marlboro’s Megan Quick sank a 3-pointer, cutting the lead to 29-28, but Justice answered on the other end with a long ball of her own to make it 32-28 Richard Winn.

“We got frustrated,” Haltiwanger said of the third quarter drag. “We missed four layups there to start the half, so that was 6 to 8 points there that made it closer, and we got messed up on a few assignments on who was guarding who and left #11 (Quick) wide open and she drained a 3 on us. But we stayed resilient, showed a lot of resolve and kept battling.”

Although out-scored 12-10 in the third, the Lady Eagles held a 34-28 lead to start the final period, and by then the wind had gone out of the Lady Dragons’ sails. Richard Winn slowed the pace of the game, draining the clock while working the perimeter on offense. The tactic opened up another 3 for Justice with 6:21 to play, upping the ante to 37-28. The Lady Dragons inched closer, 37-31, as Pruitt hit one of two from the foul line with 3:07 to play, but the charity stripe would ultimately prove to be the downfall of Marlboro Academy and the deal-closer for the Lady Eagles down the stretch. The Lady Eagles hit 14 of 22 from the foul line on the night, with Justice a perfect 4-for-4 and Emily Brigman 1-for-2 in the final quarter. The Lady Dragons, meanwhile, made only six of 25 attempts from the stripe all game long.

With a title under their belts, and with their entire lineup returning, the Lady Eagles present a formidable challenge to the rest of SCISA Class 2A for years to come. Still, Haltiwanger is reluctant to start tossing around the term “Dynasty.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Whatever happens happens, but I hope so.”

RWA—Carson Justice: 25, Jaycie Johnson: 6, Jessie Stidham: 6, Alyssa Atkerson: 6, Emily Brigman: 3.

MA—Megan Bolger: 4, Megan Quick: 9, Katie McClaren: 6, McKalyn Pruitt: 7, Katherine Holmes: 5.