Bishops return to semifinals

(Frankie Mansfield/Moultrie News) Bishop England senior JoJo Tompkins drives past Dillon's Khamele Manning during the Bishops' 56-48 win Tuesday.

It can start with a simple turnover.

Maybe it’s an ill-advised pass that turns into an easy layup. But then they jump the lane and it happens again. And then again. Before you know it, frustration sets in. You’re out of sorts. The deficit has ballooned and, just like that, they have you.

Bishop England defeated Dillon, 56-48, Tuesday to earn its fifth consecutive trip to the Class AA Lower State title game.

The two-time defending state champion Bishops will face second-ranked Mullins in the Lower State title game at the Florence Civic Center on Saturday.

“It’s unreal,” Bishops head coach Paul Runey said. “There’s not a thing easy about it. It’s like I told the girls tonight, ‘We got hit in the face and we’re still standing. And if we can stand, we’re going to keep coming.’ ”

Dillon trailed nearly the entire night but cut the Bishops’ lead to one possession multiple times midway through the third quarter. The Wildcats came as close as 38-35 with more than five minutes to play in the quarter before the Bishops’ defense took over.

Operating out of its 2-2-1 press, Bishop England ran through a 10-2 rally that lasted nearly two minutes into the fourth quarter. The Bishops’ lead grew as large as 13 points and Dillon never came closer than eight the rest of the night.

“We were uncharacteristically turning the ball over,” Dillon head coach Shawn Johnson said. “Then you get down and it starts to be about what you’re doing wrong. You’re trying to come back but because of their system it makes it hard.”

Bishop England finished with 15 steals and limited Dillon to 33 percent shooting (18-of-54) to survive an unusually high 20 turnovers.

The Bishops struggled to find their offense early, missing their first six shots of the game. Dillon led 7-6 with three minutes left in the first quarter before Bishop England reeled off six straight points as part of a 12-2 run. Bishop England led by as many as 12 in the second quarter and took a 33-25 lead into halftime.

Senior guard Erin Rose powered the Bishops through the middle of the game, scoring 10 of her 14 points off the bench in the second and third quarter and grabbing nine rebounds. All-state junior guard Rhetta Moore scored a game-high 18 points with eight boards, while all-state point guard JoJo Tompkins added 14 points on 8-of-12 free-throw shooting.

Kendra McLeod led Dillon with 15 points off three 3-pointers. Two-time all-state guard Khamele Manning scored seven, hobbled most of the night with a leg injury sustained early in the first quarter. It’s the third straight year Bishop England has eliminated Dillon from the postseason.

“Dillon is a good team and they’ve been in the big games. We knew it’d be a challenge,” Runey said. “I think the key was staying tough. Even when it got close, the momentum was going their way, we didn’t back down. We stayed tough and pulled it out.”

Mullins presents a new challenge as the Auctioneers have plowed through their first three opponents, Andrews, Whale Branch and Battery Creek, by an average margin of 57 points per game. Dillon faced Mullins close twice this season, losing by six points and then two.