One of the more remarkable seasons in Timberland basketball history is ending with an opportunity to win a state championship as the Wolves play Abbeville for the Class AA boys title on Saturday at 4 p.m. in the Colonial Life Arena.
Reaching the state final is remarkable in itself, but the way this team achieved the feat is even more impressive. Timberland (23-5) endured a streak of 13 consecutive road games during the regular season, surviving to finish as the runner-up in Region 7-AA.
So, after a first-round playoff win, going on the road to win three consecutive road games to reach the final was not as difficult as one might expect.
“Looking back, those 13 straight road games really did prepare us for this playoff run,” said coach Jerome Stewart, who is the only coach in the school’s 20-year history and led the program to its only state title in 2003. “It was a tough experience when it was happening. We sort of lost our way and lost our legs but we were able to get past it. Now it has helped us reach this point so the adversity made us stronger.”
Timberland’s playoff run included a win over Ridgeland-Hardeeville — the defending lower state champion and No. 1 team in Class AA — as well as a win over Dillon in last weekend’s lower state finals. The win over Ridgeland-Hardeeville avenged a loss in the Lower State final a year ago.
Looking at the stat sheet, nothing stands out as impressive for the Wolves. The team’s leading scorer is senior Dailyn McKinney, who averages 13.7 points per game. The only other double-digit scorer is forward DJ Johnson at 11.3 points per game.
However, Timberland allows only 58 points per game and has a team full of unselfish players.
“We just play well together and no one cares who gets the points or rebounds as long as we play as a team,” Stewart said. “It’s a loose bunch. We are humbled to be here, and I told our kids to just enjoy the week and enjoy the journey.”
McKinney, a Class AA all-state selection, says getting an opportunity to play for a state championship makes all of the extra practice and hard work worth it.
“We’re excited about this chance to play for a state title,” he said. “We all want this ring so bad, so we have been really focused during the state playoffs. Every day, all season, we practiced very hard. We knew the hard work would pay off in the playoffs and it has so far.”
Abbeville (19-4) is led by senior guard Joseph Battle, who leads the state in scoring at 30.9 points per game. Battle, who has committed to Tulsa, is an explosive player and led the Abbeville football team to a state title as a quarterback.
Stewart knows the challenge ahead but says his team has faced uphill challenges before.
“He’s very good,” Stewart said of Battle. “We know it’s a challenge. Not only him but his team is very good. These kids, they take it all in stride. We are excited to be here and we have to cherish the moment.”
Win or lose, to get this far is a great accomplishment.”
McKinney says he and his teammates have to stay focused on the task at hand, just as they have throughout their successful road playoff run.
“We have to try to play it like a regular game,” he said. “It’s a bigger place and there will be more people there but we have to try to focus on the game and doing what we can do to be successful. I think once the game starts, we will be able to focus.”