Goose Creek girls eliminate West Florence, 59-46

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Two down, two to go.

The Goose Creek girls basketball team advanced to the AAAA lower state semifinals Friday night, knocking off West Florence, 59-46. Goose Creek, which opened the playoffs with a win over Blythewood on Tuesday, needs two more victories to reach the AAAA state finals on March 7.

Goose Creek, now 20-6 on the season, will host Summerville, a 58-46 winner over White Knoll, on Monday night. The winner will play Friday night in the Lower State championship game. The two teams split two games during the regular season.

On Friday, sophomore point guard Mariah Linney led all scorers with 22 points, including 15 in the first half. Linney was pushed extra hard early in the game as Goose Creek’s post players picked up early fouls.

“I thought Mariah really carried us, especially in the first half with our bigs in foul trouble,” said Goose Creek head coach Tim Baldwin. “We had two major bigs on the bench for most of the first half. Mariah came in and got to the rim, made some plays, and carried us for a while.”

Forward Shayla Nelson finished the game with 12 points, scoring 10 points in the second half.

Baldwin, however, says the key to the victory was a hard-nosed defensive effort by every member of the team. West Florence (21-4) had two of the state’s top players in senior forward Destinee Walker and junior guard Kortni Simmons. Simmons finished the night with 17 points while Walker had 15.

“We knew they had two special players and we knew we had to play well defensively as a team,” said Baldwin. “The biggest difference tonight was that we put our athletic ability together with scrappiness. We really got after it tonight. Every player we put out there on the floor contributed in a big way. Everyone played all out and that’s really the first time in a long time that we’ve been this scrappy on both ends of the floor.”

Goose Creek led, 15-14, after one quarter but opened up a 30-22 lead by halftime, thanks to that defensive effort.

Rachel Bishop’s 3-pointer with two minutes left in the third gave Goose Creek its biggest lead at 43-30 before West Florence mounted one last rally. The Knights used a 10-2 run to pull within five at 45-40 with 5:20 remaining in the game, but the Gators answered with a decisive 8-1 run to grab a 53-41 lead with 1:47 left in the contest.

Next comes the game with area rival Summerville (21-5). Both teams enter the contest on big winning streaks — Summerville at 16 in a row and Goose Creek at 12 straight.

“Every game is a big game now and every team playing now is a good team,” said Baldwin. “Playing Summerville is what we expected. It’s going to be a battle between two teams playing their best basketball of the season. I don’t think many people are surprised that we’re both still playing.”

Goose Creek – Mariah Linney 22, Shayla Nelson 12, Simpson 7, Bishop 6, Wilson 6, Broughton 2, Dawson 2.

West Florence – Destinee Walker 15, Kortni Simmons 17, Jackson 6