Hoops: Elite Eight play begins Monday

February 20, 2012 

Eleven Midlands teams are still standing as the South Carolina state basketball playoffs enter the Elite Eight phase on Monday.

The Monday fare features the Dutch Fork, Ridge View, Dreher and Lower Richland girls teams. Dreher and Lower Richland have home dates in Class 3A.

Dreher, 22-1 and riding an 18-game winning streak, hosts Region 6 champion Crestwood with the goal of reaching the Final Four for the first time since 2004. Since then, Dreher is 0-3 in third-round outings, including an 86-47 loss to Hartsville a year ago. Crestwood is looking for its first ever Final Four spot.

Lower Richland (19-4) is back in familiar territory after suffering a second-round playoff exit a year ago. The Diamond Hornets moved on to the third round 10th time in Debbie Stroman’s 20 years in command by whipping St. James 57-49 on the road in the second round. LR squares off against Marlboro County in a battle between two No. 2 seeds. The Bulldogs from Bennettsville have never made it past the third round.

Dutch Fork, ranked No. 1 in Class 4A, takes a 23-3 record on the road to face Clover in the Class 4A Upper State bracket. The Silver Foxes’ only goal is to win it all this season after losing in the state semifinals to the eventual state champion in each of the past two seasons – Goose Creek in 2010, Spring Valley in 2011. DF is playing with supreme confidence after beating Spring Valley on Jan. 31.

Ridge View (20-6) is the surprise team in the 4A Lower State bracket, advancing to the third round and a date at Goose Creek against the two-time defending LS champion Gators. The Blazers lost to Blythewood in the final regular season game to be relegated to the No. 4 seed out of Region 4, but Terrance Gibson’s revitalized team has handily beaten region champions Sumter (64-44) and Summerville (77-54) to advance to the third round of the playoffs for the first time in program history. GC beat the Blazers in the first round last year.

Tuesday, Feb. 21

The area headline game – White Knoll at Lexington – comes as a total surprise.

White Knoll (15-13) needed a late surge to earn a tie for fourth-place in Region 5 and then win a play-in game to make the state cut. Moreover, the Timberwolves had never won a state playoff game, but back-to-back upsets of Summerville (64-42) and South Florence (48-37) have given then another shot at cross-town rival Lexington. The Wildcats handled the T-Wolves by 65-34 and 70-48 scores during the region campaign.

Lexington (22-5) is in the midst of an 11-game winning streak, including a 61-51 second-round win over West Ashley.

Elsewhere, defending 4A champion Irmo hits the road for Gaffney, Lower Richland’s boys hosts Lake Marion in 3A, while the Columbia and Keenan girls have road games in 2A.

Top-ranked Irmo (24-3) takes on a Gaffney team that is hungry to return to the limelight. The Indians, who suffered a first-round loss last season, are looking to rate their sixth state title shot since 2003. The Yellow Jackets have a lofty goal as well: To win back-to-back state championships for the first time.

Lower Richland (18-8) is looking to make it to the Final Four the third year in a row with the ultimate goal of bring a state title home for the first time since 1999. Lake Marion advanced with a 79-75 win over defending LS champion Darlington, avenging a third-round loss to the Falcons a year ago.

Columbia takes its 20-4 record and a 14-game winning streak to Cheraw and a date with the Region 4 champion Braves. Deep playoffs runs are old hat for the Capitals, who reach the Upper State final last year, but Cheraw made the Elite Eight round for the first time thanks to a 55-37 win over Pendleton on Saturday.

Keenan (13-10) hopes to earn a chance to defend its Upper State title by beating Palmetto in Williamston. The Mustangs enter with a 19-2 record and rolling along with an 18-game winning streak. Palmetto’s only setbacks have come against 4A Wren in early December.

Wednesday, Feb. 22

Two-time defending state champion Keenan (23-3) travels to face Region 4 champion Lee Central in a third-round rematch. The Raiders dismissed the Stallions 62-49 in Columbia last year. Keenan is riding a 15-game winning steak, and has won 12 straight in the playoffs. Lee Central hasn’t made it past the third round since winning back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007.

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