The Ruapehu College girls basketball team is used to driving an hour and a half to play many of its games. That doesn't seem so long any more.
Ruapehu traveled for more than 18 hours to face Beaufort Academy on Saturday. The Eagles welcomed the New Zealanders by holding on for a 45-37 victory.
Ruapehu coach Jerry Jordan, who coached at Hilton Head Prep from 1991-1994, brought his team from Ohakune, New Zealand, for a tour of the Lowcountry.
"This is a special place for me," Jordan said. "I wanted them to come and experience this."
After spending time at Beaufort Academy during the school day Monday, Ruapehu will face Hilton Head Christian Academy at 4 p.m. and play Hilton Head Prep's JV team in an exhibition on Tuesday.
On Saturday, Ruapehu got their fill of Beaufort Academy's junior forward Miranda Weslake, who had 25 of the Eagles' 45 points.
"Without her, we'd be in trouble," Beaufort Academy coach Joe Matheny said.
The Eagles, who led 24-23 at the half, repeatedly pulled to a seemingly safe distance only to have the visitors fight their way back.
A third-quarter run spurred by Weslake -- she had four straight layups and McKenzie Blake added two free throws -- put the Eagles up 40-27 at the start of the fourth.
But even then, Ruapehu outscored the Eagles 10-5 in the quarter to bring the final margin under 10.
Sophomore guard Miki Sue-Waara led Ruapehu with seven points. Senior forward Chaio Ruri, junior guard Hayley Frederickson and sophomore forward Lucy Lyon each added six.
Matheny said the Eagles (3-4) have had to adjust to the loss of senior center Megan DeBardelaben.
"We've had to learn to play different basketball," Matheny said. "We took our lumps early, we're maturing as a group, getting better.
Matheny said Ruapehu showed the Eagles two defenses that they hadn't seen, and the game was a learning experience. The feeling was the same for Ruapehu.
"It was a lot of fun for the players," said senior forward Amber Ryan, a captain for Ruapehu. "We really enjoyed it."
Beaufort Academy made posters for the visitors, introduced the players and played the New Zealand national anthem before the game. The school even assigned half of the student body to cheer for Ruapehu.
"It's not just about the basketball, it's about the whole thing," Matheny said.
Ruapehu plays in an adult women's league in New Zealand. Basketball is not as popular there, though it's growing, and Jordan said it's the only way the girls can play full games, as most games are half-court and feature a running clock.
As a result, Ruapehu plays in a league where it gets "hammered physically," according to Jordan, and plays with a 24-second shot clock.
While the Eagles couldn't simulate those conditions for Ruapehu, they did make one concession.
"I love the 10-minute quarters," said Weslake, of the extended play Ruapehu is accustomed to. Since Saturday's game wasn't a normal SCISAA-sanctioned game, the rules were adjusted.
Ruapehu raised more than $75,000 for the team's trip, which included 18 hours in flights for eight players, the coaches and some parents. They raised funds by several methods, including a "stock drive," according to Ryan.
In contrast to selling raffle tickets or holding a bake sale, Ryan said families and neighbors in their community of roughly 1,000 people were asked to donate a lamb or sheep and they would "send them to the works."
The sheep may have gotten them here, but the trip will end for the Ruapehu girls with a rodent -- Mickey Mouse, of course. Ruapehu leaves the Lowcountry on Wednesday for a trip to Disney World in Orlando, Fla.