High School Sports

Ridgeland girls' state title adds to recent Jasper County success

While providing color commentary for the S.C. High School League's live video stream during the Class 1-A state championship game Saturday, Mona Lise Dickson couldn't help but refer to the Ridgeland High School girls basketball team as "Jasper" on several occasions early in the game.

It was an honest mistake, a throwback to Dickson's time as Beaufort High School's girls coach, when Jasper County had just one public high school.

It also was an appropriate slip, given that the Jaguars weren't just representing Ridgeland High School on Saturday, nor did their inspiration end at the city limits.

Even if Jaguars coach Frederick Toomer said his team's first goal was to put Ridgeland girls basketball on the map, to distinguish itself, this was a point of pride for all of Jasper County.

For intra-county rival Hardeeville High School -- the other half of the school split four years ago -- which made it to this stage the past two years, only to settle for runner-up status.

For Thomas Heyward Academy, the cross-town private school that played for the SCISAA Class 2-A title a week earlier but lost to Bible Baptist.

For the gals from Grays Consolidated School, who gave Jasper County its only previous girls basketball title when they won the Class C crown in 1957.

"It feels good to bring a title to Jasper County," said senior guard Briana Walker. "To let people know we're here and we do have talent in Jasper."

Of course, anyone who hadn't already learned that the past couple of years hasn't been paying attention.

The Hurricanes proved it when they made it to Colonial Life Arena not once, but twice, even though they were unable to close the deal either time against Christ Church in the Class 1-A championship game.

And the Rebels reaffirmed it last week, knocking off Thomas Sumter Academy on its de facto home court to get to the SCISAA Class 2-A finals.

Drawing on the experience of their neighbors, the Jaguars went one better. Former Hardeeville star Jomanda Smalls gave Ridgeland's Brittany Ford a few pointers this week, and Ford took the advice to heart, sparking a key five-point spurt late in the first half with a perfect bounce pass to Brittany Richardson for a layup and a 3-pointer from the right wing on consecutive possessions.

"(Smalls) said don't let it get to your head," Ford said. "She did it last year. She let it get to her, and it threw her off. They thought they would come out on top and underestimated (Christ Church). She said just don't let it get to you; play how you always play."

The Jaguars certainly did that, using their pressure defense to frustrate the Knights and feed an opportunistic offense. They were physical inside and strong on the offensive boards.

But, again, that would only come as a surprise to someone who hadn't been paying attention.

It's incredible to think about what might have been if not for the split of Jasper County High School in 2007. If the nucleus of those Hardeeville teams that reached the finals had played on the same team with the core of this Ridgeland team ...

It's something that crosses Toomer's mind from time to time.

"I guess it speaks volumes about the talent that is in Jasper County," Toomer said.

Thanks to Toomer's team, Jasper County finally has a title to show for it.