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Senior Experience of Clover Leads To Fourth Quarter Rally Over Sumter As Blue Eagles Come-From-Behind To Win 40-38 In AAAAA Girls’ Basketball Finals

Senior Experience of Clover Leads To Fourth Quarter Rally Over Sumter As Blue Eagles Come-From-Behind To Win 40-38 In AAAAA Girls’ Basketball Finals

By Billy G. Baker


Aiken---The Sumter girls were the smaller, quicker team; made 9-of-14 free throws; had one-third more steals, and even led 29-21 over Clover entering the final period of the AAAAA girls’ basketball finals at USC-Aiken on March, 19, but the five senior starters for the Blue Eagles dominated the final period and claimed a 40-38 win that went down to the final seconds.

It was Clover’s (18-1) first girl’s state title in basketball ever and avenged a lost last year in the finals. Sumter (13-4) was seeking their second state title after winning their first one in 1983.

After the game the HSSR AAAAA Girl’s Coach of the Year Sherer Hopkins said, “This is awesome, just awesome to have finally won a state title and I am happy for the entire team but especially for our hard-working seniors who have been in the program for a long time,” said Coach Hopkins who has coached in the program for more than 20 years. “We knew we were playing a good team and we knew it was not going to be easy to win. I am just so proud of the team effort that it took to win this state championship.

“I also commend out fans for staying behind us and supporting us all season,” said Coach Hopkins. “Our fans are the best around.”

Coach Hopkins said there were just a few half-time adjustments. “We knew we had to do better on the half-post, catching the ball and looking backside, and attacking the basket more,” she said. “The girls did a better job of going to the hole in the second half and it did get us several lay-up opportunities.”

Coach Hopkins had special praise for senior leader Aylesha Wade. “She has meant so much to our program,” said Coach Hopkins. “Through the years we have had several great players too and she has come through and had that next level intensity with work-outs and doing what we asked to do. I am just so happy for her and UNC Charlotte is getting an awfully good player for sure.”   

  Clover outscored-Sumter 19-9 in the final period. The Blue Eagles put three senior players in double figures led by Janell Carter with 13 points and 8 rebounds including three blocked shots. Aylesha Wade, headed to UNC-Charlotte next season, added 12 points, two assists, two blocked shots and a steal to aid the team’s win, along with senior La’Destiny Worthy who had 11 points and 9 rebounds in the game.

The other two senior starters for the Lady Blue Eagles were senior Lauren Deal who had two points, two steals, and two rebounds along with senior Taylor Thomas who led all players in the game on the boards with 10 rebounds while scoring two points.

Sumter started the game the calmer team building a 12-5 lead after the first period as freshman point guard Kiara Croskey hit a three-pointer and made two free throws to pace the Lady Gamecock offensive attack. At the break Sumter held a 20-12 lead with Croskey the top scorer with 9 points. Five of her teammates (Layken Cox, Keziyah Sanders, Rickell Brown, Inga Colclough, and Alicia Spann) all had one basket each.

The game was physical from the opening tip with both team’s defenses defense dominating the game for three periods until Clover exploded for 19 points in the final period. The team’s battled to a 9-9 tie in the third period when it appeared Sumter’s 8-point lead going into the final period might hold up. Clover’s “experienced seniors” had other ideas breaking the team huddle to start the final period.

“We did turn up both the offensive and defensive intensity in the fourth quarter and they are just a phenomenal team,” said Clover head coach Sherer Hopkins. “I told them in the huddle to start the final period that we had worked hard all season, the game was close and winnable, and to just let it all go in the final period and to just keep grinding.”

(The Clover players certainly adhered to that charge from their head coach.)  

Worthy hit a put-back lay-up for Clover with 7:00 left to cut the deficit to 29-23. Thomas then blocked a shot near the basket as Croskey drove hard in the paint and that defensive play bought the Clover fans to their feet. Croskey came back with a steal and score to put Sumter up 33-23 with 4”32 left and Coach Hopkins called a times out.

From the 4:32 mark until the end of the game Clover out-scored Sumter 16-5. Coming out of the time-out Worthy scored on an inside move to make it 33-26 and then Carter scored off of a steal to make it 33-28 with 3:50 left. Then at the 3:05 mark Wade knocked down a three from the top of the key to trim Sumter’s led to 33-31.

Sumter got to a one-on-one situation with 2:44 left when Clover picked up their 7th foul of the second half. They missed the front-end and Clover got the rebound. With 2:23 left in the game Carter scored off another steal scoring as she was falling down off of a spin move under the basket that went in to tie the score at 33. Carter was also fouled on the play and made her free throw to give Clover a 34-33 lead.

Sumter tied the score at 34 when Cox made one of two free throws with 2:20 left. A driving lay-up by Wade put Clover back on top 36-34 with 1:50 left in the game. Then at the 1:35 mark Inga Colclough made two free throws for Sumter to tie the game at 36 with 1:35 remaining. With 1:17 left Carter scored on a lay-up to make give Clover a 38-36 lead with 1:17 left.

With 1:00 left Cox hit a jumper in the lane for Sumter that tied the score at 38.  Croskey tied up the ball with 39.4 seconds left and the possession arrow belonged to Sumter. Clover rebounded a missed shot by Sumter and with 19 seconds left Wade scored on an inside play to give Clover a thrilling 40-38 win.

“These kids work hard and they are a joy to be around and I certainly feel bad for them right now,” said Sumter head coach Jeff Schaffer finishing up his second stint as the head coach in the program. “I am just super proud of how they got though this crazy season that we have all been through. They had great resilience just to get to this point. I don’t think many people expected us to be here to be quite honest because we are such a young team.

“We are happy for these kids and many of them are freshmen and sometimes down the stretch a freshman is going to make a mistake and I told them after the game you just have to learn from that and move on,” said Coach Schaffer. “We’ll be back, and we’ll get back in the gym and be resilient, and keep practicing over the summer, and hopefully we can get Covid-19 behind us and focus on getting back here next year without so many distractions.  I love the fact that both our guards (Croskey and Sanders) are freshmen.”  

For the game Sumter out-rebounded Clover 36-32 and led in steals 12-8 but with the game on the line in the final period it was the senior experience of Clover that came through for the blue Eagles leading to the two- point hard fought win.  


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