FLORENCE — The Dreher Blue Devils were not willing to wait any longer.
The Region 5-3A champions, led by a trio of sophomores, defeated region rival Lower Richland 53-43 in the Class 3A Lower State final to advance to the March 3 championship game.
“A lot of people would have said to give it some time, but I knew that this group of girls, with the right mindset, was capable of doing something like this,” said Blue Devils coach Teresa Jones, who led Dreher to a state title game loss in 2004.
The Blue Devils, who notched their 19th-consecutive win and their fourth against Lower Richland, were well-prepared. Dreher came out hot against an off-the-mark Lower Richland squad.
“We worked on (shooting) all week, and I just knew that my key players were going to step up,” Lower Richland coach Debbie Stroman said. “All week it seemed like they were ready, but when they started, it seemed like there was a little shakiness.”
Dreher led by seven at halftime, but the Blue Devils came out of the break shooting. Sophomores Kaydra Duckett and Jazmine Robinson each hit 3-pointers in the opening minute as Dreher took a 15-point lead four minutes into the second half.
Breshay Johnson contributed five points to the Lower Richland effort in the period, but the Diamond Hornets’ shooting troubles continued.
Dreher outscored Lower Richland 18-9 to roll into the fourth quarter with a 41-28 lead.
“Mentally, we always try to stay ready, and we knew (Lower Richland) had a point to prove,” Jones said.
In their third regular season matchup, the Diamond Hornets nipped at the Blue Devils’ heels but lost by two points. This time, Lower Richland felt sure it had perfected the formula for success.
Lower Richland started with a 2-3 zone, but Dreher broke through with Jazmine Robinson guiding the offense and Makayla Johnson’s post play. The Blue Devils opened the game with an 8-0 run, and Lower Richland was scoreless for more than four minutes. The Diamond Hornets got on the board with a jumper from Ashley Irving but trailed by 14 with 1:44 left in the period.
The Diamond Hornets responded to Dreher sophomore Kaydra Duckett’s three-point play with a rally to end the quarter. Irving’s steal and dish to Dayonshe Mitchell for a layup completed the rally that cut Dreher’s lead in half.
In the second quarter, three turnovers slowed the Dreher offense, but the Blue Devils held their advantage. Lower Richland missed an opportunity to narrow the gap, going 0-for-4 at the free throw line early in the period.
“I definitely thought we would be able to step it up, but we never could get our kids going,” she said.
The Blue Devils (24-1) will face Wade Hampton in the final at Colonial Life Arena.
“I told the girls it’s going to be a great ride. They have 32 minutes to get it done and a lifetime to remember it,” Jones said.
L: Nathan 6, Williford 3, Mithell 4, Brown 7, Irving 2, Dennis 5, Johnson 7, Richardson 8, Davis 4. D: Nathaniel 3, Makayla Johnson 14, Robinson 6, Hopkins 6, Myers 4, Dunlap 2, Duckett 18.
Reach Nelson at (803) 771-8419