Despite missing one of its top players and leaders, the Goose Creek girls basketball team took care of business with a 61-44 win over White Knoll in the first round of the Class AAAA Lower State playoffs on Tuesday night.

The Gators (21-2) will host Conway — a 60-44 winner over Fort Dorchester — in a second-round game on Friday night.

With junior forward Ericka Broughton sidelined with a season-ending knee injury, freshman forward Shayla Nelson poured in 21 points and junior point guard Mariah Linney added 15 as the Gators broke open a close game with big second and third quarters.

White Knoll jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the first three minutes of the game before Goose Creek took control with a 21-4 run to establish a 29-20 halftime lead.

“First quarter, we got a little shock,” Goose Creek coach Tim Baldwin said. “In the second quarter, we caught our breath a little bit and we were able to open up a little lead.”

Goose Creek opened the third quarter with a 10-0 run and led 43-23 with 3:40 left. White Knoll got as close as 13 on several occasions in the second half but the Gators were never seriously threatened.

“We needed to come out in the third quarter with a surge and we were able to separate a little,” Baldwin said. “We had good leads in the second half and we didn’t manage it very well. We took some shots we don’t need to be taking with a lead.”

Baldwin said the loss of Broughton, a three-year starter averaging eight points and nearly six rebounds per game, will be tough to overcome, but he sees the misfortune as an opportunity for others to step up.

“She gives us so much on the floor, things people don’t realize,” Baldwin says. “She has played in a ton of big games and she handles that pressure so well. But, we can’t dwell on it. We have two days to get ready to play again and this gives some others an opportunity to step up for us.”

Baldwin says Conway presents a big challenge, but adds every team will challenge his team in these playoffs.

“Every team is good now and we have to play well, which is the way it should be,” the coach said.