Smiles emerged for good on the Hilton Head Island High School girls basketball team's bench after the buzzer sounded.
The Seahawks knew they would be pushed Tuesday at Whale Branch Early College High School. They play few teams whose pressure matches the Warriors.
Hilton Head High was prepared, having held off Whale Branch at home earlier in the month. And the Seahawks beat the press Tuesday to slip away with another tense victory, this one 44-43.
"They're like the only team that really presses us that hard," Hilton Head High forward Americal Jenkins said. "So we really have to pick up our defense and run plays. In the first half, we kind of struggled a bit. But we picked it up."
Lauryn Bush's layup with eight seconds remaining provided the Seahawks' winning points. She scored nine of her 11 points during the fourth quarter.
Kemoni Jenkins' 10-foot jump shot for Whale Branch dropped at the buzzer, but the Warriors needed a 3-pointer to tie.
The Seahawks (4-1) have only lost in triple overtime to South Effingham. Hilton Head High doesn't have a senior on its roster, but the players say they can't use age as an excuse. The core contributors have played together enough.
Hilton Head High paid special attention to the Warriors' Jenkins, a guard who likes to break down defenses off the dribble and create shots and opportunities underneath. Guards Rachel Friend and Tiffany Banks took turns trying to neutralize the junior, who finished with 14 points.
"We just have to deny her the best we can, stay on her tight, but also be aware, because she'll give it up," Friend said. "Our other girls have to help a lot."
After Jenkins went out with four fouls and 4:58 remaining, the Seahawks quickly erased a four-point deficit and took the lead for good with 3:25 left.
"Too many mistakes down the stretch," said Whale Branch coach Wilbert Bryant, whose team slipped to 5-2.
Hilton Head High coach Dave Greenberg's team did not lead until halfway through the third quarter. A 6-0 run to end the first half had helped the Seahawks hang around.
And they finished off another dramatic victory over the Class 1-A Warriors, whom Greenberg expects to factor deep in the playoffs.
"I thought our kids played with such guts," Greenberg said.
Hilton Head High girls 44, Whale Branch 43
Hilton Head High (4-1) -- Lauryn Bush 11, Savannah Reier 11, Americal Jenkins 7, Rachel Friend 7, Tiffany Banks 6, Brennan O'Gorman 2
Whale Branch (5-2) -- Kemoni Jenkins 14, Cheyenne Rogers 11, Cynthia Rivers 7, Shaniqua Johnson 6, Jonae Riley 3, Dana Chapel 2
Whale Branch boys 63, Hilton Head High 22
Whale Branch coach Linc Lyles likes to mix up his defenses, but lately the Warriors have been giving him reason to stay with man-to-man.
Their performance Tuesday helped show the advantage of having the athletes at every position to pull it off. Lyles watched the Warriors occupy passing lanes and shot-blockers gain proper position.
He said Hilton Head High has regularly beaten the Warriors with backdoor cuts in recent meetings. On Tuesday, the coach only recalled one after the game.
"I'll give the credit to the kids," Lyles said. "I'm not normally playing a lot of man, but our zone traps this year -- either I'm not teaching them well enough, or the kids are just not responding."
Whale Branch kept Hilton Head High winless with another double-double from Denzel Daniel inside. Lyles was able to see his entire bench as the Warriors coasted.
Whale Branch plays Wade Hampton on Thursday before traveling to North Myrtle Beach for a holiday tournament, where Lyles expects the athleticism and reliance on man-to-man defense to be tested.
Hilton Head High (0-5) -- Troy Clifford 6, Khalil Marshbum 5, Matt MacDonnel 3, Malik Singleton 3, Craig Ryan 2, Sam Page 2, Tate Steinour 1
Whale Branch (5-2) -- Denzel Daniel 13, Simeon Middleton 12, Marlon Williams 11, Michael Middleton 9, Justin Rhode 4, Devonta Glover 4, Jovelle Coakley 4, Chavonne Simmons 2, Jay Abney 2, Braylon Harrison 2