Whale Branch in basketball playoffs: boys advance, girls fall to Hemingway

sfastenau@beaufortgazette.comFebruary 23, 2014 

They faced this situation before.

The same opponent. The same gym. A close game.

The stakes were a little different Saturday, but the Whale Branch Early College High School boys basketball team knew how to react after C.E. Murray had stormed by to try and claim the second-round Class 1-A playoff game at Battery Creek High School.

Just make a play. Just one to restore momentum.

The Warriors got their buckets the final four minutes, winning 70-59 to advance to the Lower State semifinals for a second consecutive year. Whale Branch won after C.E. Murray erased a 23-point deficit to lead 54-53 with 5:28 remaining.

"We went in the huddle, everybody was like 'C'mon, c'mon,'" Warriors guard Justin Rhode said. "We just wanted to go out there and play as hard as we could."

A 17-5 run closed out the victory for the Warriors and set up a home game against Timmonsville on Wednesday at Battery Creek to accommodate a larger crowd.

Rhode, who led Whale Branch with 14 points, scored two quick baskets to spark the run after the War Eagles had grabbed the lead.

His two-handed slam in the second quarter had helped spark Whale Branch to a 39-18 lead at half and a sure ticket to the third round.

But the run came.

With Whale Branch in man-to-man to defend C.E. Murray's 3-point shooters, the War Eagles went to the basket again and again during the second half. Oceanz Fluitt scored all 15 of his points during the second half after Whale Branch applied special pressure the first two quarters.

The senior forward had gone off for 42 points during C.E. Murray's first-round win, attracting extra attention. He broke free with the Warriors in man-to-man.

Whale Branch eventually fell back into a zone and stopped the gashes.

"You've just got to stay calm and play basketball, really," Whale Branch senior Denzel Daniel said.

The game Saturday unfolded much like the Lower State semifinal last year, with a live crowd at Battery Creek and a tight game.

Whale Branch players asked for heart to help win that game. This year they asked for one play or two to turn the run.

Jay Abney, a senior forward who started for the 2013 state final team but has taken on a smaller role, was inserted for the final few minutes after sitting much of the game and delivered a key three-point play.

"We kept them boys rolling, keeping their head in the game," forward David Lamb said of the Warriors' bench. "Next thing you know, we were back on a roll again.

C.E. Murray (12-9) -- Oceanz Fluitt 15, Marcus Reid 15, Alexander Bradley 11, Martin Bufkin 7, Tiareek Heyward 6, Tykeem Canty 3, Anthony Parson 2

Whale Branch (21-4) -- Justin Rhode 14, Denzel Daniel 11, Michael Middleton 11, Simeon Middleton 8, Marlon Williams 7, Devonta Glover 6, Jay Abney 5, Camrin Miller 4, Jay Middleton 4

Class 1-A girls playoffs: Hemingway 38, Whale Branch 31

Wilbert Bryant thought his girls had their legs.

But with Whale Branch playing its fourth game of the week, and Hemingway's no-nonsense zone daring a fatigued team to give in, the Warriors finally surrendered. The Tigers eliminated Whale Branch for a third consecutive season.

"We thought we had a plan to combat the zone," Bryant said. "But it seemed like when we got in the game, it just went out the window. I can't put my finger on it."

Whale Branch closed of the regular season on Monday, played a region tiebreaker game on Wednesday and the first round of the playoffs on Thursday. Down 28-20 to start the fourth quarter, the Warriors found some reserve energy in its man-to-man press and quickly scored four points to get back in it.

But Hemingway pulled away from there.

Tigers coach Chakaris Thomas graduated five seniors from her 2013 state championship team but returned three starters. The zone remained intact.

"We're trying to get the new ones adjusted to it," Thomas said. "It's a big change for them. JV players are used to playing man-to-man."

Hemingway (14-4) -- Diamond McFadden 17, Wykasha Space 12, Iresha Cooper 6, Samantha Wilson 3

Whale Branch ( 19-7 ) -- Kemoni Jenkins 12, Shaniqua Johnson 8, Dana Chapel 6, Cheyenne Rogers 5

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