Back to Back: Lady Eagles Survive OT to Take Title

Carson Justice finishes the fast break. (Photo/Martha Ladd)

 

Jaycie Johnson (15) uses her size to loft in 2 points for the Lady Eagles. (Photo/Martha Ladd)

SUMTER – A flickering scoreboard, a whistle-happy first half, a frozen clock with less than a minute to go and an improbable, desperation 3-point bomb to send the game into overtime piled drama on top of drama in Saturday’s SCISA 2A girls’ state basketball championship. But when the dust had cleared, the Richard Winn Academy Lady Eagles cut down the net and hoisted their second consecutive state title trophy, topping Thomas Sumter 37-33 in overtime.

The Lady Generals’ man-zone defense held Richard Winn to their lowest point total of the season and their lowest output since their 43-38 loss to Union County, a class 3A public school, on Jan. 13. While the Thomas Sumter game plan forced the Lady Eagles into tough looks from outside, the Lady Eagles still managed to open the game on a 5-0 run as the Lady Generals’ offense sputtered out of the gate. Thomas Sumter finally got on the board with 3:30 left in the first period, ending the quarter on a 6-2 streak to cut the Richard Winn lead to 7-6 at the first buzzer.

“I give all the credit in the world to (Thomas Sumter head coach) B.J. Reed,” Richard Winn head coach Jason Haltiwanger said after the victory. “She had a great game plan defensively. It looks like man it looks like zone. We weren’t patient enough to move it around more. But the girls gutted it out, that’s all that matters.”

The Lady Eagles drew whistle after whistle in the first half, and by the second quarter Thomas Sumter had reached the bonus. The Lady Generals tied the game at 7 from the line early in the second, then took a 9-7 lead from the line with 5:37 to play. All but two of the Lady General’s 8 second quarter points came from the stripe.

Sophomore Jaycie Johnson tied the game at 9 with a turnaround jumper in the paint with 4:07 left in the quarter, but Thomas Sumter’s Taylor Knudson put the Lady Generals back out front with a layup at the 3:20 mark. Anna Cooke’s 3-point stroke gave Richard Winn a 12-11 edge with 3:03 to go before the half and Jessie Stidham added two more with 2:33 to go. The Lady Generals tied the game at 14 with just over a minute on the clock when Knudson sank one of two shots from the line, but senior Carson Justice nailed a pair of foul shots in the closing seconds to give the Lady Eagles a 16-14 advantage. The half ended with an astonishing 10-3 foul discrepancy in favor of the Lady Generals.

“There were multiple things that we can’t control that affected us early,” Haltiwanger said. “We got seven or eight fouls just like that. Our best thing we do is a man-to-man run and jump and that took us right of that, so our girls had to adapt and adjust.”

As foul calls reached a more even distribution in the second half, the pace of the contest picked up considerably and the see-saw battle for 2A supremacy was on full display. The Lady Generals tied the game three times in the third period and took a brief 19-18 lead at the 6:28 mark. Richard Winn freshman Bailey Taylor drove home a 3 with 3:09 remaining in the quarter to give the Lady Eagles a 23-20 lead. Taylor’s shot set off a 7-4 run by RWA, leading the Lady Eagles to a 27-24 lead at the third buzzer.

“Bailey Taylor hit some big shots,” Haltiwanger said. “They kept leaving her open and she was hesitating at first, then she took them and knocked them down. That was big.”

In the fourth, Richard Winn matched their largest lead of the game, opening up a 29-24 advantage in the early goings. With just over 3 minutes to play, Justice snatched the ball from Knudson and raced down the floor for the put-in to give the Lady Eagles a 31-24 lead. The Lady Generals, meanwhile, went stone cold, held off the boards for the first 5 minutes of the quarter. Knudson broke that drought with a pair of free throws. And while Richard Winn struggled uncharacteristically from the line down the stretch, Knudson’s buckets ignited a minor Thomas Sumter rally – enough to draw them to within three, at 32-29.

On an in-bounds pass with under a minute to play, the Lady Generals were gifted with as many as seven free seconds of playing time when the game clock failed to start. The unexplained and uncorrected bonus time extended the game just long enough for the Lady Generals to force overtime. With 4 seconds on the clock, Knudson launched a desperation shot from well beyond the arc. As the buzzer sounded, the basket miraculously swallowed the ball, tying the game at 32 and sending the decibel levels inside the Sumter Civic Center soaring to highs greater than a Who concert.

“I heard that (the clock didn’t start), but it’s not going to change anything,” Haltiwanger said. “There were a bunch of questionable things that happened tonight, but a champion doesn’t complain; they keep playing. That’s what the girls did.”

In the 4-minute extra frame, the Lady Generals used the charity stripe once again to take an edge, 33-32. It would, however, be the only point Thomas Sumter could muster in OT, while the Lady Eagles finally found their form from the line. Justice hit three of four attempts in overtime, while junior Emily Brigman hit two of four to sew up the title.

“It was kind of a nightmare free throw night for us,” Haltiwanger said. “(Justice) hit some big free throws of us down the stretch. Emily Brigman, who missed two to put it away (in regulation), came back in overtime to hit some to give us a lead there.”

Saturday’s final was the third consecutive trip to the title game for Richard Winn in as many years, and their second consecutive championship.

“It takes dedication and hard work,” Haltiwanger said. “A lot of girls are at the beach during the summer; they’re in the weight room working out and working on their basketball skills. It started a long time ago with people like Alex Maass (class of 2012) paving the way and now these girls followed and they put in a lot of hard work.”

With a potential dynasty on his hands, Haltiwanger will look to his underclassmen to step up next season. In addition to Justice, the Lady Eagles will have to move on without senior Anna Cooke in the 2014-2015 season.

“Jaycie Johnson is a sophomore, she had an incredible year,” Haltiwanger said. “Jessie Stidham (a junior) is someone you can build around in the post. Alyssa Atkerson, she’s a freshman. You can build around her as a point guard. She’s extremely athletic. So there are some pieces there.”

TSA – 6-8-10-8-1 – 33

RWA – 7-9-11-5-5 – 37

RWA: Carson Justice-15, Jaycie Johnson-8, Bailey Taylor-5, Jessie Stidham-4, Alyssa Atkerson-3, Emily Brigman-2.

TSA: Taylor Knudson-17, Julia Law-8, Sydney Long-2, Hannah Jenkins-2, Logan Morris-2, Emily Neveis-2.

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