COLUMBIA-- Brittany Richardson could sense the body language changing.
The St. Joseph's players seemed to have reached a point where they let the pace of play affect them. A shove here or there, grabbing the shorts and requiring extra time to get down the floor showed Ridgeland High School it was in control of the Class 1-A girls basketball championship Saturday at Colonial Life Arena.
"And that was a good feeling," said Richardson, a Jaguars senior. "We had control of them."
The Jaguars read the signs and didn't let up, beating St. Joseph's 41-34 to claim the school's first girls basketball state title and the first girls basketball title for a Jasper County public school since 1957. The season was Ridgeland's first in Class 1-A after dropping from Class 2-A last year.
The Knights enjoyed more size, with three girls 5-foot-10 or taller in the starting lineup. Ridgeland coach Frederick Toomer knew the Knights' size from watching them in the Upper State title game. He told his team to make sure backside help was always there and to front the post.
He also told them St. Joseph's appeared the slower team, that speed should win out. The Jaguars proved him right, playing aggressive defense the way they have all season. St. Joseph's Elizabeth Reynolds led all scorers with 19 points, but no other Knight scored more than five.
"We knew they would be quick and have a dynamite press," St. Joseph's coach Grace Franklin said. "We didn't know they would be able to affect our post game the way they did."
The game marked the third consecutive time a Jasper County school reached the Class 1-A girls title game. Hardeeville High School did it the past two seasons, both times falling to Christ Church.
Toomer said Saturday the win was for Ridgeland first, that he wanted the distinction between Jasper County's schools. The 4-year-old school rested its hopes on its defense from the outset. Defense wins, players said throughout the season. Offense only sells tickets.
The Jaguars held St. Joseph's to three field goals during the second half. The Knights at times had open looks in the post but couldn't convert. Entry passes were contested. When the Knights did get the ball on the block, the Jaguars helped on defense, coming over to poke away the ball.
Ridgeland guard Briana Walker said she expected the Knights to go inside, for sisters Elizabeth Reynolds and Katherine Reynolds to feed each other often.
"We just had help side and played our defense the way we always play," Walker said.
The Jaguars never trailed after the 2:35 mark of the first quarter. Richardson, an all-state selection who had been quiet much of the playoffs, came out more aggressive Saturday. She scored eight of her points during the first quarter, putting back rebounds and driving the length of the floor for layups.
Toomer, looking at the scoring totals from previous playoff games, told his senior the Jaguars needed more from her final game.
"We just brought it out and put it on them," Richardson said. "I had to prove something to myself and the team."
Ridgeland 41, St. Joseph's 34
St. Joseph's (21-7) -- Elizabeth Reynolds 19, Katherine Reynolds 5, Caroline Sparr 5, Elizabeth Moore 2, Stephanie Saunders 1, Imani King 1, Elizabeth Bannio 1
Ridgeland (23-5) -- Brittany Richardson 17, Briana Walker 9, Brittany Ford 7, April Jenkins 6, Teleatha Dopson 2