High School Sports

Thomas Heyward girls reach state championship game

It took a furious fourth-quarter rally, but Thomas Heyward Academy's girls basketball team will get the opportunity it has hoped would come its way for nearly a month -- a third shot at top-ranked Bible Baptist.

The Rebels rallied from an 11-point deficit in the final quarter Thursday for their ninth consecutive win, a 45-42 victory against Thomas Sumter Academy in the SCISAA Class 2-A semifinals at the Sumter County Exhibition Center, setting up a championship showdown at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against the Braves, who won the teams' two regular-season meetings by a combined 12 points.

The Rebels (21-5) finally regained the lead on Caitlyn Cooler's 3-pointer with less than two minutes left, and Brielle Jungblut pushed the lead to four with a steal and layup with about a minute left.

Still, Thomas Sumter (21-8) wouldn't go quietly. The Generals pulled within one before Cooler hit a pair of free throws with seven seconds left, and Thomas Sumter's desperate shot to tie it at the buzzer was off the mark.

"We just started converting and finishing on the offensive end," Rebels coach Gary Mazzanna said. "They wore down -- the big 6-foot-5 girls (Mikaela Hopkins) got tired and couldn't run the floor -- and that opened some things up for us."

The rally came in spite of Thomas Heyward's foul trouble -- as starters Jungblut and Kayla Canavan fouled out in the fourth quarter -- and in spite of a huge game from the College of Charleston signee Hopkins, who scored 25 points.

Cooler led the Rebels with 13 points, Jungblut scored 10, and Jamie Malphrus added nine.

Now its on to the finals for another crack at defending state champion Bible Baptist (27-3), which handed the Rebels their last loss, 42-35 in Savannah on Jan. 27. The Braves also won 55-50 in Ridgeland on Jan. 18.

The Rebels had junior forward Ashlie Layman for both of those games, but she has since been lost for the season to a thumb injury, making the matchup a little more difficult for Thomas Heyward.

"We have to play a little bit different style to hang in there," Mazzanna said. "We'll hopefully have enough gas to turn it on at the end."