FLORENCE — Burke High School head coach Wayne Alston put his arms around his dejected players as they walked off the court at the Florence Civic Center on Saturday.
“Don’t worry,” Alston assured them. “We’ll be back. We’re going to come back.”
Burke’s magical postseason run came to an end with a 43-41 loss to undefeated Timmonsville in the Class A girls Lower State finals.
Timmonsville (25-0), ranked No. 1 in the state, advances to face No. 2 Christ Church in the state championship game next Saturday in Columbia. Burke finishes the season 19-5, after advancing to its first Lower State title game in school history, just a year after winning only seven games.
“We really exceed a lot of people’s expectations this year. That just gives us even more confidence for next year,” Alston said. “Timmonsville has been here before. My girls have never played on this level. But I’m proud of the way they played and proud that they never gave up. “
Down 13 points at halftime, Burke opened the second half on a 15-0 run to take 28-26 lead, its first since the opening minute of the game. Bulldogs’ all-state guard Kamirah Jenkins led the rally with 10 points in the first four minutes of the third quarter. Jenkins finished the game with a team-high 17 points, scoring 15 in the second half.
“Sometimes you win a ballgame you probably should’ve lost,” Timmonsville head coach Perry Stokes said. “We had too many opportunities we threw away. Too many free throws, too many putbacks, too many mistakes and to still come out on top, I feel like we’re a very blessed team.”
Timmonsville led by as many as six points early in the fourth quarter only to watch its lead shrink to two by the final minute. With a chance to tie or take the lead, Jenkins blew past her defender, split two more with a spin move and just missed a floater off the inside of the rim.
Class A Player of the Year Justice Gee split free throws on three consecutive possessions and Jenkins knocked down a 3-pointer to give Burke one last opportunity with 2.8 seconds remaining. Burke couldn’t repeat the last-second magic that saved its season in the third round Monday as its desperation heave from just past half court fell short.
Gee powered Timmonsville, as she has all season, with a game-high 29 points. Burke held Timmonsville to just three points through the first six minutes of the game before Gee took over with two assists, a jumper and a buzzer-beating three to lead the Whirlwinds on a two-minute, 10-0 run to close the quarter. Gee added eight in the second quarter and against sank a shot as the buzzer rang.
Burke entered the game averaging 60.3 points per game in the postseason but had just four players other than Gee score, none more than five.
“There’s no stopping (Gee),” Alston said. “Our game plan was to slow her down a little bit and not let her kill our chances. I think we did a decent enough job. We played good defense. The ball just didn’t bounce our way there at the end.”
Burke finished the game with two freshmen, an eighth-grader and two juniors. The Bulldogs will lose one starter to graduation and return more than 85 percent of their scoring from this season.
“A lot of people thought maybe we’d be good next year but this year was a lot better than what they ever thought we could be,” Alston said. “We put some things in place. Everybody’s coming back. We’re coming back.”