Three Lowcountry basketball teams that have dominated play since the start of the season will have their opportunity to prove their worth on a statewide level this weekend as the S.C. High School League crowns state champions at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia.
In Class AAAAA, Goose Creek will play for the girls state championship, taking on defending state champion Spring Valley in a 7 p.m. game Friday.
Following that contest, the Berkeley boys team will play defending state champion Dorman in the Class AAAAA matchup. Berkeley is making its first appearance in the basketball finals.
On Saturday at 2 p.m., the Bishop England girls will play Keenan for the Class AAA championship. The Bishops are in the state final for the seventh time in eight years and are seeking a sixth state championship.
For Goose Creek coach Tim Baldwin, who won his 400th game earlier this season, a late-season change defensively has made his team better. The Gators went to a man-to-man defense and the results have been impressive.
“The thing about high school kids is if they buy into something, they will fight to the end,” Baldwin said. “This group bought into the change and we’ve been really good defensively over the last month or so.”
Senior forward Shayla Nelson averages 12.4 points per game and is the only Gator to average in double figures. However, the roster is deep with seven seniors and balanced scoring has been the key.
Junior point guard Aniyah Oliver, who missed last season with an injury, has been tremendous as the floor general, according to Baldwin. She adds 8.1 points per game and teams with fellow guards Ciera Shivers and Mary Davis to provide the perimeter scoring.
“Aniyah has incredible basketball IQ and she’s a calming influence on the floor when things get crazy,” Baldwin said.
Goose Creek must contend with a Spring Valley team that has four players averaging in double figures. Two of Spring Valley’s three losses this season came to teams playing for state titles this weekend, South Pointe and North Augusta.
“We respect them very much and we know we’re in for a challenge on Friday night,” Baldwin said.
Berkeley’s magical season will long be remembered in Moncks Corner. At a school noted for its football success, the basketball team has captured the hearts of the community in a way never before seen.
Berkeley’s home playoff games were sellouts and the arena is expected to be full of blue and gold on Friday night.
“The community has been unbelievable in their support for our guys and I am very appreciative,” Berkeley coach Joseph Wallace said. “It’s been a dream season for us. This team has never taken a day off in their preparation. They have remained humble and coachable, just a pleasure to be around all season.”
The Stags rolled through the regular season with only one loss — against SCISA AAA state champion Cardinal Newman — and have been impressive through the state playoff run.
The opponent in the final will be the best team Berkeley has played this season, Wallace said.
“They can beat you with jump shots and they can score inside,” Wallace said. “We have to be ready to defend top to bottom.”
Berkeley’s team is led by a pair of senior all-state performers, forwards Ishan White and Trevur Smalls. White averages 16 points and 10.5 rebounds per game while Smalls adds 15.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per contest.
Dorman counters will a pair of major college junior prospects in forward PJ Hall and point guard Myles Tate.
Bishop England was upset on its road to the final last year and veteran coach Paul Runey says his team may have used that loss as motivation for this season.
“They actually brought up wanting to make up for last year more than I did,” said Runey, who earned his 700th career win earlier this season. “We had a key player tear her ACL before the playoffs and that really hurt us. It hurt to lose and it may have been a driving force for the kids, but it hasn’t been something that we dwelled on. We just approached this season as a new and different challenge.”
That key player lost to injury was point guard Josie Dennis, who successfully rehabbed her knee and has run the show for Runey this year.
“No question, her being able to come back this year has been a huge difference for us,” Runey said. “She’s the quarterback. She’s the one who takes charge out on the floor.”
Bishop England’s strength lies inside where three seniors dominate the action. Katie Brooks, Kelly Drummond and Katie Cullum combine for nearly 30 points per game.
Defense, however, is Bishop England’s calling card. The Bishops allow just 28 points per game and average 19 steals per contest. That defense will be challenged by an athletic Keenan team that runs the floor. The Raiders have one of the top eighth-graders in the country in MiLaysia Fulwiley.
“They’re awesome, really good. We have to stop them from going coast to coast,” Runey said. “If they get hot, we’re in trouble. We have to control as much as we can. Hopefully they won’t be able to get off to the races as easily because of them having to defend us down low.”
Class AAAAA Girls
Goose Creek Gators (22-1)
Coach: Tim Baldwin
Players to watch: F Shayla Nelson (12.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg); G Aniyah Oliver (8.1 ppg, 3.6 apg); G Ciera Shivers (8.4 ppg).
Notes: Goose Creek has not lost to an in-state team this season … Baldwin earned his 400th career win this season … Goose Creek is playing Spring Valley in the state final for the fourth time with Spring Valley holding a 2-1 edge.
Spring Valley Vikings (26-3)
Coach: Megan Assey
Players to watch: G Ashley Williamson (14.7 ppg); F Taylor Lewis (16.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg); PG Taylor Britt (9.2 ppg, 6.4 apg).
Notes: Spring Valley is the defending state champion in Class AAAAA … Five players average at least nine points per game … Vikings are 58-5 over the last two seasons …Spring Valley's roster lists nine seniors.
Class AAAAA Boys
Berkeley Stags (26-1)
Coach: Joseph Wallace
Players to watch: F Ishan White (16 ppg, 10.5 rpg); F Trevur Smalls (15.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg); PG DJ Chisolm (9.8 ppg, 3.3 apg).
Notes: Berkeley is making its first appearance in the state final in school history … The Stags have not lost to an SCHSL team this season … White and Smalls were named Class AAAAA all-state this season.
Dorman Cavaliers (27-3)
Coach: Thomas Ryan
Players to watch: PG Myles Tate (17 ppg, 5.4 apg); F PJ Hall (15 ppg, 8.2 rpg); G Ta’Lon Cooper (14 ppg, 4.3 apg).
Notes: Dorman is the defending Class AAAAA state champion and has not lost to an in-state team this season … Tate and Hall are major Division I prospects, each holding multiple college offers.
Class AA Girls
Bishop England (27-1)
Coach: Paul Runey
Players to watch: PG Josie Dennis (7.9 ppg, 4.3 apg); F Katie Brooks (11.1 ppg); F Katie Cullum (10.5 ppg).
Notes: Bishops are in the final for the seventh time in eight years, seeking their sixth state championship …Keenan and Bishop England have met twice previously in the state final, each winning once … Runey won his 700th career game earlier this season.
Coach: Reggie McClain
Players to watch: G MiLaysia Fulwiley (19.7 ppg, 5.8 spg); G Dyani Burke (14.9 ppg).
Notes: Fulwiley is one of the top eighth-graders in the country and was a starter on Keenan’s Class AA state title team last year … McClain is making his sixth state title game appearance with Keenan, winning three titles.