Ridgeland-Hardeeville coach Frederick Toomer received one of the best birthday presents ever Saturday afternoon.
His Jaguars scored the final six points over the last two minutes of a close game to defeat Swansea 46-40 Saturday afternoon in the Class 3A girls Lower State Championship contest at the Florence Civic Center.
“Today is my birthday, so this is the best present I’ve had in a long time. It’s awesome,” he said. “I’m just very excited and very happy, for the seniors especially, really the whole team, but especially the seniors.”
The Jaguars (18-3) will play Newberry for the Class 3A title next Saturday at 2 p.m. at Colonial Life Arena. Ridgeland last played for the title in 2011, but this will be the first time they’ve made it as Ridgeland-Hardeeville.
All-state performer Quanajia Drayton proved to be the difference. The senior guard scored 13 of her 23 points in the fourth quarter, including the last four free throws in the final 26 seconds to seal it. She accounted for 13 of the 18 points scored by the Jaguars in the final eight minutes.
Swansea coach Tamara McNeal-Perdue said they did everything to try to slow Drayton. That was part of the reason two Swansea players fouled out on a roster than includes only eight players.
“We focused on her from the beginning,” McNeal-Perdue said. “We went into a box-and-one a few times to, hopefully, slow her down, but we got players in foul trouble trying to slow her down.”
Toomer said he challenged Drayton at the half, and he liked the way she responded.
“She’s been doing that all year,” he said. “She sort of struggled early on but she kept fighting. Sometimes I have to really, really challenge her. I have to push the right buttons and I say I pushed the right buttons and she came out and did a little better.”
Drayton knew her coach challenged her and responded like she has most of the season.
“My coach asked me to step up and that’s what I did,” Drayton said. “My teammates looked for me to step up. I knew the game was in my hands, so I had to do whatever I could to get us over the top.”
Jamee Mack scored 14 for Ridgeland-Hardeeville.
Danae McNeal scored 20 points for Swansea (19-9) and Lauryn Robinson chipped in with 10.
R-H – Quanajia Drayton 23, Jamee Mack 14, Green 7, Singletary 2. S – Danae McNeal 20, Lauryn Robinson 10, Lowman 6, Gillings 3, Hampton 1.