The Goose Creek Gators are headed back to Columbia.
The defending girls Class AAAA state champion defeated West Ashley, 69-54, on Friday night in the Lower State championship at the Citadel's McAlister Field House.
Goose Creek will play Spring Valley at 7 p.m. next Friday at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia. Spring Valley advanced with a 53-44 victory over Dutch Fork.
Next Friday's game will be a rematch of last year's title game. The Gators defeated Spring Valley 64-63 in a game in which Goose Creek erased a 21-point deficit.
"We're very excited to go back," Goose Creek coach Tim Baldwin said after his team upped its record to 28-2. "We want to go up there and put on
a good show. Our girls know the ultimate goal is to get back there and win."
For a while, Goose Creek struggled Friday as the younger Wildcats played on adrenaline. Then, Goose Creek gave the Wildcats a dose of Mikayla Turner.
West Ashley led 22-11 with 5:39 left in the first half, but Tanner scored all 14 of her points in the second quarter to give her team a 34-30 lead at halftime.
"Crucial. Her performance was crucial," Baldwin said. "I don't care how good your are, you have to have someone step up when you're on the ropes. I was very happy for her. Coming from New York to Goose Creek and turning her life around, I'm very happy for her. That's what any sport is about: turning the kid around and giving them confidence. Now, she's a leader."
Aleighsa Welch, who was held to four points in the first half, flexed her muscles and skills and scored 21 points in the second half. She finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds. Ashley Fields was in double figures with 12 points. But Fields was injured in the game and Baldwin is concerned about her status for the state title game.
Freshman Dekeiya Cohen scored 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead West Ashley.
She had one of the top postseasons in the state. In the first round, she collected 16 points, 19 rebounds and blocked six shots against West Florence. She scored 31 points against North Augusta in the second round, and topped that off with 22 points and 20 rebounds against Wando.
"This is going to be a big boost for her," coach Maria Williams said of her 6-0 freshman. "As a matter of fact, this was one of her goals this year: to play here at The Citadel."
Last year, she missed this by one game. She was very disappointed and set this as a goal."
Welch, a two-time Post and Courier player of the year, took control in the second half. She outscored the Wildcats 9-8 in the third quarter and helped the Gators build a 54-38 lead heading into the final quarter.
Baldwin said his team must play better next week.
"We have to control what we do," he said. "Tonight, early on, we didn't control the basketball and turned it over. It doesn't matter who we play. If we turn the ball over, we could lose."
West Ashley (54): Doctor 7, Sumter 5, Cohen 26, Ferguson 10, Walker 4, McClary 2.
Goose Creek (69): Fields 12, Bryant 7, Welch 25, Doctor 10, Tanner 14, Taylor 1.
West Ashley 14 16 8 16 --54
Goose Creek 11 23 20 15 --69
Records: West Ashley 21-5, Goose Creek 28-2.