This wasn’t exactly the start Ridgeland-Hardeeville envisioned.
In pursuit of their first state championship since 2011, the top-seeded Jaguars worked through some growing pains and shaky play to overcome plucky Academic Magnet, 54-46, in a first-round playoff game Tuesday night in Ridgeland.
A team used to overrunning and outworking opponents instead resorted to out-toughing a game Raptors squad. Coach Frederick Toomer’s team scored the first four points of the contest, but from there the first quarter was a back-and-forth fight that saw the visitors in front at the first buzzer.
The Raptors were at their most effective with the basketball in the hands of Lilly Schweickhardt, whose vision and awareness helped cut down the trademark R-H press. Usually stout defensively, Ridgeland found itself allowing layups and open jumpers.
On the other end, the Jaguars appeared to suffer from cold shooting. While in the second half they found more success in the paint, they settled for too many long-range efforts in the opening 16 minutes.
“We didn’t shoot well basically the whole game,” Toomer said. “I just told them at the half to attack the basket.”
Toomer, of course, understands that in the playoffs, there are no easy games. He said his team would have to play a sharper 32 minutes if it wants to raise another banner in a few weeks.
“As long as you win, you live to play another one.”
The second half brought a second wind for the home team, supported by a boisterous crowd waving red T-shirts and imploring the team to persevere through tough stretches. The Jaguars, seemingly revitalized by halftime, scored the first six points of the third quarter to stretch their lead to 10. They struggled with the Raptors’ size, however, and Academic Magnet kept chipping away at the deficit.
“I would call them hustle plays, 50-50 balls that they were beating us to,” Toomer said. They were out-hustling us.”
A tense fourth quarter produced more drama. Ridgeland turned to Shakeerah Grant and NyJae Boozer for stability on offense. Jayme Chisholm also made a difference with her speed in the closing session, with a couple of clutch steals and the speed to become a one-woman fast break. It all came together, just a little later than expected.
R-H will face Mullins on Friday in Ridgeland.
“We definitely have some things that we need to work on,” Toomer said.
R-H girls 54, Academic Magnet 46
R-H: NyJae Boozer 16, Jayme Chisholm 14, Shakeerah Grant 7, Shakeyla Brown 5, Timotheia Green 4, Rebekah Taylor 3, Quanajia Drayton 2, Kayla Hasty 2
AM: Lilly Schweickhardt 29, Choral Linhart 13, Caroline Black 2, Hannah Wadell 2