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Saluda High School

Wow! Saluda Has Historic Basketball Season With Third Round Playoff Win Over Andrew Jackson

By Billy G. Baker


Saluda—On the way up that steep peak, as you look up at your dreams, you can take baby steps in the direction towards wining a state championship, or giant steps; leaving yourself and your striving team very satisfied for completing one major goal in the long journey; finally getting past the third round of the basketball playoffs was a very “Big Deal” for the Saluda Tigers girls’ basketball program.

Jeanette Wilder, the head girls’ basketball coach and athletic director at Saluda High, came into the 2019-20 basketball season with the stated goal of getting past the third round of the playoffs. It was an all-consuming passion of hers to coach her team to a win in the third round after 20 seasons of pouring her heart and soul into a game she loves to the moon and back.

 With an exciting 50-34 road win at Andrew Jackson on February, 24 that objective was finally satisfied and when the clock hit 0.00 Coach Wilder could turn that serious game face off, relax, quit worrying, and shake hands with long- time bench assistant Jacob Courtney who first met Coach Wilder when he started helping her with the program at Strom Thurmond 20 years ago.

Then Coach Wilder’s brother Paul Ergle came down from the stands and gave his sister a special hug, a little longer hug, that let her know the moment of accomplishment had made him proud too. Coach Wilder thought about Paul’s daughter, her beloved niece “Star” who had spent six-years in the basketball program without ever experiencing the utter joy of a third-round victory.

This accomplishment was for Star, brother Paul, all former players, the town of Saluda, the fans, and her young daughter, “special assistant” McKinley who had cried when the doctor told her she could not travel with the team because of a severe strep throat condition. This also meant husband “Brent” stayed home with his daughter, but they were able to catch the game live through a Lancaster cable outlet.

The milestone win had a special moment for 5-10 Saluda junior forward Kalisha Hill who was not aware she would score her 1,000th point in the second quarter of the game and she would go on to record 20 points in the game. “She had no idea she was close to scoring 1,000 points because I never told her,” said Coach Wilder. “She scored on a lay-up. I didn’t tell her because I wanted it to be a surprise for her, a special moment and it was for sure.”

Hill finished the season averaging 18 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.2 steals. She is an honor student with “Coach on the Floor” skills and she makes her teammates “Believe” in the game plan and to embrace all the work it takes to finally win third round games in a competitive process. Perhaps college coaches like Amanda Butler of Clemson can take notice and get her in her summer camp for a first- hand evaluation.

“Kalisha has a work ethic second to none,” said Coach Wilder. “If I needed her to, she could play every position on the team. Her court sense is off the chart and she is so coachable. I rarely get on her because she is so hard on herself. She self-examines everything she does on the court. I spend a lot of time reminding her not to be so hard on herself, but she wants to be the best in her efforts to help the team.”

Then forward Nadya Watson, the only senior on a 20-2 team (watch out for next season) took over the final quarter scoring 9 points and grabbing six rebounds to put an exclamation point on the historic win. Watson completed the season averaging around 8.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals a game.

Sophomore guard Mya Carroll was the defensive stopper for the team. She’s a 5-4 in your face lit stick of dynamite when she locks down on her opponent. “In our first- round playoff game against Southside Christian they had a 20- point scorer and we knew we had to shut her down, so we assigned Mya to guard her,” said Coach Wilder. “She held this 20- point scorer to six points. In our second playoff game against St. Joseph’s they had a 20-point scorer also and Mya held her to just three attempted shots for the game and no points. She certainly deserves some recognition for what she brought to our team on defense all season.” Carroll averaged 5.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and three steals a game.

Freshman guard Jessica Means was a key contributor on the team as well averaging 7.9 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals a game. “Jessica is a talented freshman who could have easily started for us but when she came in off the bench, she brought so much energy to the team, a spark that helped the team get going,” said Coach Wilder. “She’s also a good ball handler and she came on strong and played very well in the playoffs also.” Means was named all-region and she has also been named to the HSSR Statewide All-Rookie team that will be honored at a gala style all-state banquet in mid-April.

Junior point guard Tiara Daniels was a key contributor averaging 8 points, three rebounds, and two steals a game. “She’s our leader on the floor,” said Coach Wilder. “She knows where everyone is supposed to be at any given time. She showed a lot of maturity running our offense this season. She is an excellent on-ball defender also.”

The reaming members of the team, who all contributed to the team, include sophomore forward Maria Brooks, sophomore guard Haley Gunter, 8th grade forward Kaylen Nick, sophomore guard Alexis Drafts, sophomore forward Shania Brown and junior guard Auvia Holland.

Six days after the big win at Andrew Jackson, another step forward of that peak of dreams was taken in a 63-41 loss to defending AA champion Christ Church at the Bons Secours arena in Greenville. “We made it to the big stage, and we didn’t play very well but the opponent had something to do with that,” said Coach Wilder. “It was a huge opportunity for our team, and we learned a lot from that final game that we can learn from going into next season.

“I told the team in the locker room after our final game that we had finally knocked on the door of success by winning a third round playoff game and that next season, with a strong summer conditioning program, we were going to knock the door down next year and compete for a championship,” said Coach Wilder. “I stressed to them not to be bitter but to get better.”

Well said by the former three sport Hall of Famer from Newberry College who also said this at the end of the interview for this article, “My girls are all born and raised in Saluda and we take a lot of pride being from Saluda and representing Saluda. When our boys won the state title in football it was contagious, and we wanted to go on and have an outstanding season also in our sport.”

Although the Saluda girls’ basketball team came up one game short this season from playing for a state title, Coach Wilder said in her heart she is preparing already for next season with this question on her mind as she stares at the peak of dreams one more time: “Why not us? Why not us?”


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