On Saturday afternoon, the Ridgeland High School girls basketball team reached the point most teams face during a playoff run. Fans think the end has come, that it's been a good run.
The Jaguars, whose defense had dominated Timmonsville during the first half of the Class 1-A Lower State final at The Citadel's McAlister Field House, allowed the Whirlwinds a sizable run to start the second half. Timmonsville, undefeated in 26 games coming in, enjoyed its largest lead and appeared as though it had asserted itself again.
But Ridgeland dismissed any doubts of its mettle, clawing back in the game with annoying defense and timely outside shooting before holding on to win, 35-33.
The Jaguars will play Saint Joseph's on Saturday, March 5, at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia for the Class 1-A state championship. It will be the third straight season a Jasper County school will be in the Class 1-A final. Hardeeville reached the state final the past two seasons, losing to Christ Church both times. Saint Joseph's knocked off the two-time defending state champions Saturday in the Upper State final.
Timmonsville (26-1), which was looking for its first trip to the state finals since 2003, hadn't trailed at the half this season before Saturday.
Following the third-quarter surge, the Jaguars regrouped and held the Whirlwinds scoreless over the game's final 3:27. Tonisha Roberts' second 3-pointer of the fourth quarter gave Ridgeland the lead for good. Toomer's team succeeded in dribbling out much of the final minute while the Whirlwinds desperately tried to accumulate fouls to put Ridgeland on the free-throw line.
Timmonsville's last chance came on an inbounds play at halfcourt with five seconds left. Standout guard Sade' Eli drove the lane but turned and passed toward the perimeter. Ridgeland's April Jenkins stole the pass and hurled the ball into the air as time expired.
"Our main focus is defense and we pride ourselves in playing defense," Ridgeland coach Frederick Toomer said. "I told our team, 'Defense is going to win it for us.' Then when we got the stop in the end, everything we had been preaching came into fruition."
Eli, only a freshman, entered the game averaging 20 points a game. Ridgeland held her to 12. Timmonsville coach Perry Stokes said Eli has better days ahead.
"She is one of the best ninth-graders around and is going to make plays like that down the road," Stokes said. "But it didn't happen. Maybe I put too much pressure on her as a ninth-grader, but that's hindsight."
(Florence Morning News reporter Lou Bezjak contributed to this story.)
Ridgeland 35, Timmonsville 33
Timmonsville (26-1) -- Sade' Eli 12, Ashley McKithen 8, Justice Gee 5, Asia Graham 5, Arnesha Brown 3
Ridgeland (23-5) -- Tonisha Roberts 11, Brittany Ford 7, Brittany Richardson 6, Briana Walker 6, April Jenkins 3, Matesha Stevenson 2