Hoops: Friday's Final Four preview

February 22, 2013 

The two longest basketball winning streaks in the Midlands and the state are on the line Friday when the top-ranked Dutch Fork girls and the No. 1 Irmo boys take the floor for Final Four outings at two sites.

Dutch Fork (27-0) is riding a 38-game winning streak into tonight’s Class 4A Lower State championship game at 7 p.m. against Region 5 rival Aiken at the Florence Civic Center.

The vaunted, defending state champion Silver Foxes swept the Green Hornets (19-7) during the conference campaign, but Aubrey Pompey’s club gave DF a go in the most recent meeting on Jan. 29 before falling 51-45.

Both clubs have been dominating in the playoffs. Both teams have three wins by double-digit margins on the books.

Aiken’s task is to somehow deal with DF star Alaina Coates, who piled up 42 points and 27 rebounds against the Green Hornets. Coates, a McDonald’s All-America selection, is averaging 20.5 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.6 blocks in her fifth and final season as a Dutch Fork mainstay.

But the Silver Foxes are not merely a one-player team. Coates receives solid backing from junior Sydney Shull (10.9 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.9 spg), senior Rose Robinson (5.1 ppg, 4.3 apg, 2-5, spg), sophomore Morgan Williams (7.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and sophomore Zhane Green (6.8 ppg).

Senior Erin Gilmore is the big gun for the balanced Green Hornets, averaging 13.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 5.3 steals per game. Gilmore had 11 points, eight assists and four steals in a 75-51 quarterfinal rout of West Ashley that was essentially over by halftime.

The win over West Ashley was of great significance for Aiken. The triumph, after all, allowed the Green Hornets to become a Final Four team for the first time winning the 4A championship in 1975. Before Tuesday’s win, Aiken was 0-for-6 in the quarterfinals since the playoff format was expanded to 32 teams in 1993.

The Silver Foxes are a Final Four team for the fourth year in a row with Coates in the lineup, and for the ninth time in program history. Last year crushing 61-29 win over Orangeburg-Wilkinson in the title game negated the bitter memories of a 0-for-3 showing in previous championship games.

Irmo (27-0) is set for the Upper State championship game at 8:30 p.m. against Hillcrest (23-4) at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville. The Yellow Jackets are back in the Final Four after being expelled by Gaffney in the third round a year ago. Irmo won the 2011 state championship.

Both teams feature all-state players. Hillcrest’s Tre Smith is the 4A player of the year, while Irmo has Justin McKie and Detrek Browning on the list.

Irmo made the Final Four cut for the eighth time under veteran coach Tim Whipple by nipping South Pointe 62-59 in the quarterfinals on Tuesday after thrashing Spartanburg in the second round on Monday.

Hillcrest is also gearing up for its third game in five days. The Rams beat Rock Hill on Monday before edging Spring Valley 68-65 in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. Hillcrest should have amply motivation, considering Irmo sent the Rams packing in the second round of the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. Irmo, by the way, beat the Simpsonville team in the 1995 championship game – the last time the Rams advanced to Columbia for the finals.

Hillcrest’s win over Spring Valley ended a run of six quarter final losses in as many tries since 1996.

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