Wando boys to battle Hillcrest in Class AAAA State Basketball Championship
Sure, coach David Eaton and his Wando Warrior boys' basketball team are going to soak up the school spirit, marvel at the motorcade to Columbia and cherish the Chop House's unflinching support at the Colonial Life Arena.
After all, Eaton & Co. deserve it. For the first time in school history, the Warriors will play in the Class AAAA state championship game. They battle Hillcrest at 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Colonial Life Arena.
But there is a game to play, and that's the mindest of the Warriors. Eaton's pregame speech will almost be predictable, something from the eternal basketball success story "Hoosiers." The environment will be amped about a thousand times than normal, but the baskets are still 10 feet high and the court is 94 feet long.
"I'll tell them to keep in mind what we did to get here, and what we need to do Friday," said Eaton who has a 109-44 record in six years at the school. "We'll get there early and look at the crowd, and look at how the ball bounces off the rim. That will give us an indication of how tight the rims are. The main thing is that I will tell them to go out and play with confidence."
The Warriors are extremely talented, have received the right breaks and have a young, energetic coach who has sold the program to the school body and the community. You need all three to experience March Madness.
"We have the talent, and it makes the coaches look good," Eaton said. "But we were lucky to win a tie-breaker and that put us a good bracket, And, we're playing our best basketball at the right time. We've played our best in the biggest games, so timing is important too."
Hillcrest advanced with a victory over Irmo. That had been the Rams' biggest roadblock in past years. Some observers feel this could be their year since they removed that mental mindset.
"They are the opposite of us," Eaton said. "They remind me of Goose Creek. They are small, very fast with a lot of good ball-handlers. If you play sloppy or are lazy, they make you pay for it. They are a tough team to beat."
The Warriors don't have the state experience, but this season could be the first of maybe many appearances in the final. There are 17 players on the roster and only five are seniors. The Warriors are deep, tall and defensive; qualities a team needs to end the season with a victory.
The Warriors showcase a sophomore who already has an all-state season under his belt. Jamez Rogers, 6-5, leads the team in scoring with 15 points and has the ability to reach double figures in rebounding.
"He's put it all together," Eaton said. "He has the size and he can handle the ball. He can be as good as he want to be. But he has to keep working."
Matthew Pegram, a 6-9 junior, is the biggest of the bunch. He's trouble at both ends of the court with his rebounding and ability to make a player change the trajectory of their shot. He can also pick up a basket underneath the basket because of his size.
"He'll get that rebound and score," Eaton said. "He can score the buckets that break the other team's spirit. When he scores the players on the other team hang their heads."
Amp Moore has been clutch this year. He hit a shot at the buzzer at the end of the first half to give his team much-needed momentum in the state semifinal against Sumter. Andrew Glover is a two-sport star who comes from a family of athletes. Taylor Majeski and Jack Delonchamps are other tall and talented players.