This time around, the Hilton Head Island High School girls basketball team had the most dominant player on the court, and that made all the difference in its much-anticipated rematch with North Myrtle Beach on Thursday.
On the eve of her 17th birthday, Hilton Head's Americal Jenkins gift-wrapped an impressive double-double to lift the Seahawks to a 45-30 victory over the visiting Chiefs in the first round of the Class 3-A playoffs.
Despite second-half foul trouble, Jenkins scored a game-high 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to help the Seahawks turn the tables on North Myrtle Beach, which ousted them in the first round of last year's postseason behind the dominant play of current South Carolina freshman and then all-state senior India Farmer.
More importantly, the victory earns Hilton Head a second-round home playoff date with Darlington on Saturday.
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"It feels amazing," Jenkins said of the victory. "It was our goal to beat them because they beat us last year. We worked our hardest during the game and we came away with the W."
Despite what the scoreboard might suggest, the victory was anything but easy for the Seahawks, who struggled to make shots early in the game and then were forced to overcome foul trouble to their prized center during much of the second half.
Hilton Head fell behind 8-2 early and relied on a 10-2 run to close the first quarter to ultimately carve out an 18-15 halftime lead behind 12 points from Jenkins. Yet while the shots weren't falling, the Seahawks' tenacious defense -- fueled by guards Tiffany Banks, Savannah Reier and Lauryn Bush -- was brilliant from start to finish.
Hilton Head chased and harassed the Chiefs into more than 20 turnovers, including 14 in the first half, which led to scoring opportunities while the half-court offense was stalling.
All told, only five Chiefs made shots from the field, and the leading scorer for North Myrtle Beach was Marci Chestnut with eight.
"Tiffany and our other guards just owned them defensively, and that is what helped turn things around after the slow start," Seahawks head coach Dave Greenberg said. "We totally took them out of everything they wanted to do."
That was especially true when Jenkins was forced to the bench with her third foul midway through a still-tight third quarter. The Chiefs almost immediately cut a five-point lead to 22-21, but Banks and Bush took control from there. Largely fueled by defense, the guards combined for seven straight points during an 8-0 Hilton Head run to end the quarter, which derailed the Chiefs' plans of stealing a road victory.
"They really picked us up," Greenberg said of Bush and Banks. "When Americal went out, I thought Tiffany and Lauryn, and Savannah also, really made plays. They took it upon themselves to say 'hey we're not going to let this one get away from us.' "
Banks scored all 11 of her points in the second half, while Bush scored all six of her points in the final two quarters.
Those efforts weren't lost on Jenkins.
"We have a stacked team and we know that when any player gets into foul trouble there are others who will step up," Jenkins said. "That's a big part of our team and I am thankful for that."