After several runner-up finishes, Porter-Gaud boys basketball head coach John Pearson finally experienced the sweet taste of victory.
Pearson, in his 10th season as coach and 21st season overall, guided the Cyclones to the SCISA Class AAA state title on Saturday, knocking off area rival Northwood Academy, 70-38, to claim the school’s first title since 2005.
Porter-Gaud improved to 25-3 with its third win over Northwood this season.
Also capturing titles were Northwood Academy’s girls — a 70-42 winner over Porter-Gaud in the Class AAA final, and Charleston Collegiate — a 51-38 winner over Anderson Christian in the Class A boys championship.
In the boys Class AAA game, the Cyclones, showing no sign of nerves, started quickly and never allowed Northwood into the game. Porter-Gaud led 24-12 after one quarter and the advantage grew to 41-22 at halftime.
Freshman Josiah James, who led the Cyclones with 14 points, drilled a 3-pointer to push the Cyclones to a commanding 54-30 lead with 1:40 left in the third quarter and Porter-Gaud led, 56-30, heading into the final period.
“We started off fast, got the momentum early and managed to keep it throughout the game, and that was really important,” Pearson said. “This group is so funny. They don’t ever feel pressure. We have a lot of young guys and this is their first time in this moment, so maybe they just don’t know how they’re supposed to feel. We played very well tonight.”
Junior Eric Jackson and sophomore Aaron Nesmith added 13 points, while senior Michael Barry scored 12 for Porter-Gaud.
Pearson remembered his mentor, the late former boys coach Randy Clark, amid the celebration of victory. Clark led Porter-Gaud to three state titles and passed away in 2013.
“He’s always in my mind, and I really wanted to do this for him,” Pearson said.
Northwood lost in the finals for the second straight season and finished with a 21-11 record. The Chargers were led in scoring by freshman center Devin Ramsey with 14 points.
The Chargers of Northwood Academy repeated as the Class AAA girls state champions, breaking open a close game with a dominant third quarter.
Northwood capped a 28-3 season with its fourth win this season over its Region 3-AAA rivals and improved to 54-9 over the last two seasons.
After Porter-Gaud closed the first half with an 11-0 run to trail, 31-24, at the half, Northwood outscored the Cyclones, 18-5, in the decisive third quarter to carry a 49-29 lead into the fourth quarter. The Chargers put the game away with a 10-0 run to close the third period.
Senior Dee Heath led four Northwood players in double figures with 18 points. Senior guard Katelyn Powell added 15 points, while freshman center Angel Middleton chipped in 13. Junior guard Jailah Melvin added 11 points.
“I thought the first half was played more at Porter-Gaud’s pace, but we were really able to get out running in the third quarter,” Northwood coach Presley Singleton said. “We did a much better job defensively and on the boards and I think our depth and experience really took over.”
Senior forward Maggie Cochrane paced Porter-Gaud with 11 points, while senior forward Garis Grant added nine. Porter-Gaud, which upset Hammond in the semifinals on Friday night, finished the season with an 18-13 record.
The Sun Devils won their second class A boys title in three years, overcoming an early deficit to defeat Anderson Christian.
Charleston Collegiate finished the season with a 26-7 record, adding to its 2014 championship. Coach Jay Godbolt started four juniors and a sophomore this season but said the team played with great maturity.
“This was a very competitive group of guys who were committed to being the best they could be on every day,” Godbolt said. “I’m really proud of their effort today. We got down early, but this team was very calm. We knew at halftime we could win this game.”
Anderson Christian jumped out to a 16-5 first-quarter lead, but the Sun Devils were able to close the halftime gap to 26-20. The second half was all defense as Charleston Collegiate allowed only 12 points in the final two quarters.
Junior guard Kegan Boone led Charleston Collegiate with 19 points, while Al Young added 12.
“Kegan is by far the most talented scorer I have ever coached,” said Godbolt, who just completed his 17th year at Charleston Collegiate. “He’s a natural, gifted scorer.”