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Newberry Academy Girls Win First Ever SCISA Class A Basketball Title With 59-53 Win Over Patrick Henry

Newberry Academy Girls Win First Ever SCISA Class A Basketball Title With 59-53 Win Over Patrick Henry

By Billy G. Baker

Publisher  

Columbia—The Newberry Academy girls basketball team trailed Patrick Henry 30-29 at the half in the SCISA Class A girl’s title game at Heathwood Hall on February, 26 so Eagles head coach Barry Kesler switched to a 1-3-1 zone defense in the second half and that move appeared to work out well as the lady Eagles came back and won the school’s first state title in girl’s basketball 59-53.

Both teams came into the SCISA Class A girl’s finals undefeated and both teams enjoyed a lot of fan support in the stands at Heathwood Hall.

“This was the first time we were down at the half all year,” said Newberry Academy head coach Barry Kesler, finishing up his 7th year with the team.  “We played man in the first half and probably got out of position a little too much. We had three of our top five players with three fouls early in the third quarter so going to a 1-3-1 protected them a lot.

“Winning our first state championship in girls’ basketball means everything to these girls,” said Coach Kesler. “They put in the work and stay focused all season. This is pretty much the same group of girls who won the volleyball state title. It was nothing I said at the half that changed our strategy. It was our veteran presence that we have and their leadership that carried us down the stretch.”

Coach Kesler said junior point guard Daja Taylor left her play all on the court. “Daja has great potential and she really came on strong in the second half for us,” said Coach Kesler. “She is just a gym rat who is very dedicated to the sport of basketball. I do not think we have seen her reach her true potential just yet. We expect her to have an even better senior year next year.”       

“We are going to miss the leadership of our lone senior starter this season in London Huggins who has been on the varsity for four years,” said Coach Kesler. “We are going to enjoy this state championship for a couple weeks but we will be back in the weight room getting ready for next season real soon. To get here and win a state title takes unrelenting commitment from your players and I am proud of every girl on this team.

“These girls had to wear masks all the time and sacrifice a lot to stay healthy in the middle of a pandemic and I know how hard they worked all season so when you that hard work pays off it is just a wonderful feeling,” said Coach Kesler. “I am very proud of their accomplishments in both volleyball and basketball.”

Patrick Henry head coach Belinda McCoy has been coaching girl’s basketball well over 30 years now. Her teams are known for hustle and great defense and that is what helped the team accomplish a 19-1 record this season. “We had some turnovers in the fourth quarter and one defensive slip-up that really made the difference in the game,” said Coach McCoy. “We have mistakes before and that is part of the game especially when you are coaching 15-, 16-, and 17-year-old athletes.
“I am so very proud of their efforts and their accomplishments and we played 20 games this season and won 19 of them,” said Coach McCoy. “We have now played for a state championship in volleyball and basketball this year.”

Coach McCoy said Newberry Academy coming out in 1-3-1 defense to start the third period caused her some concern. “Our length didn’t match their length and I think that hurt us some with the pressure they put us,” said Coach McCoy. “We are going to miss our two seniors, Abbie Wiggins who has been an unselfish team leader for a long time along with Stephanie Carrillo.

“Our junior varsity team was undefeated and our varsity went 19-1 with most of our team back for next season,” said Coach McCoy.  “We will keep working hard to get back here again next season.”           

The Lady Eagles had several players with two or more fouls in the first half so the switch to a zone defense, from man-to-man, protected key players from potentially fouling out, and it also allowed for a little more rest. The first half had been a track meet up and down the floor so both teams looked a little tired at the break.

Patrick Henry won the defensive battle in the first half as senior Abby Wiggins converted several steals into points. The first quarter ended with Newberry Academy clinging to a 15-14 end. In the second period Patrick Henry scored 17 points as Harper Rice led the charge with six points during the 8-minute period to help the Patriots take a one-point lead into the break.

At half-time Harper had 15 points with Patrick Henry teammates Saniah Sexton and Logan Cone contributing seven and six points respectively.

Newberry Academy (24-0) had not trailed any team at halftime all season until PHA led by one but it was a lead the Lady Patriots would not hold. At the break talented 5-6 junior point guard Daja Taylor and junior shooting guard Kailey Cheeks had 12 and 11 points respectively to lead the Lady Eagles at the break.  

The third period began with Taylor hitting a three- point shot to give the Lady Eagles a 32-29 lead. Patrick Henry then scored the next three two- point baskets, all from the inside, with Rice scoring four of those points and Logan Cone scored two to give PHA a 36-32 lead. The score remained with two points of each team until the end of the quarter with Newberry Academy ahead 46-44. In the last 35.4 seconds of the third period Caroline Senn converted three four shots to give her team the lead.       

In the final period four crucial turnovers hurt PHA’s chances of a comeback. Newberry Academy out-scored the Lady Patriots 13 to 7 in the final period dominated by defense. Cone’s inside score to open up the final period tied the score at 46. However, back-to-back three- point shots made by Taylor and junior Madison Rivers gave the lady Eagles the lead for good at 52-46 with 5:39 left in the game.

For the game Taylor led all scorers with 32 points, scoring 20 of them in the second half in crucial situations. Taylor also had seven rebounds, four steals, and two assists. Cheeks, who was named the HSSR-SCISA Co-Class A Volleyball Player of the Year after helping lead Newberry Academy to a state title in that sport in the fall, had 15 points, five rebounds and two assists in the title game. Senn chipped in with five points, five rebounds and five assists. Other starters for NA included senior forward London Huggins with two points and junior forward Allison Joyner contributed also. Rivers had three points also.                                           

Rice led PHA with 23 points and Sexton contributed 16. Cone has a good game also scoring 12 points. Wiggins only scored two points but her defense and court leadership was outstanding throughout the game.


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