Jeffrey Emory knows this game is different.
Emory, the girls basketball coach at Wando High, knows what to expect from Goose Creek on Saturday. After all, the teams already have played twice this season.
But this game is much bigger. This time, Goose Creek is standing in Wando's way of getting to the Class AAAAA state championship game.
The Lady Gators are on top of the basketball mountain and have been living there for a few years. Emory’s Warriors will be the latest team to try and dethrone them.
“We know their personnel very well, and we know what they’ve done,” Emory said. “We know what to expect and understand we have to make them play the kind of ball we want to play.”
The two Charleston-area titans will face off in the S.C. High School League Lower State final Saturday at 5 p.m. in the Florence Civic Center. The winner goes to the state championship on March 6 in Columbia.
Goose Creek is making its fourth straight appearance in the girls final four. The Gators won state championships in 2017 and 2019.
Goose Creek coach Tim Baldwin is confident with the leadership of senior captains Aniyah Oliver and Kolina Adams, two guards who were freshmen when Goose Creek captured its 2017 title.
Oliver, who has committed to Francis Marion, is averaging 13.6 points, 4.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game. She’s also 17 points away from reaching 1,000 points in her career, a feat only five other players have reached in school history.
Adams is contributing 11.3 points and 2.4 steals per game.
Baldwin said Wando has been on his radar since the preseason, and he knows there’s an added incentive for the Warriors to dethrone the reigning champions.
“It’s like playing king of the hill. To be the best, you have to beat the best,” he said. “They have a really good team and they shoot the ball well. They always play us tough.”
In two regular-season meetings, Goose Creek beat Wando twice – 50-42 in January and 44-35 on Feb. 7. Emory will lean on those games for experience, stating that ball control and keeping the game close will be huge for the Warriors.
Wando will be relying on senior forward Elizabeth Eads (11.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2 blocks per game) and sophomore guard Dylan Silber (10.3 points, 3.4 rebounds).
Emory's roster includes four additional seniors, including Katherine Eads, the twin sister of Elizabeth.
“Our seniors have led us all year,” he said. “They know what it takes to get the job done, so we rely on them to guide our younger players.”
Baldwin has taken notice, and compares the Warriors to his 2019 championship team that featured nine seniors.
“They have a chance just like we do,” Baldwin said. “Whoever fights harder is going to Columbia.”