FLORENCE — Dutch Fork is one step from perfection.
The Silver Foxes earned a return trip to the Class 4A girls basketball state championship game with a dominating 40-24 victory against Aiken on Friday night at the Florence Civic Center. Dutch Fork will try to win back-to-back titles next Friday night at Colonial Life Arena against Dorman and cap the school’s first unbeaten season. It was the 39th consecutive win dating to last season for the Silver Foxes.
“We’ve really worked to get back to where we were,” Dutch Fork coach Faye Norris said. “We haven’t completed it yet. We made a lot of mistakes, but I told them to forget about the mistakes and let’s move forward. It feels great to get back where we were last year.”
McDonald’s All-American Alaina Coates finished with 20 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks and altered many other shots in helping hold the Green Hornets to their lowest scoring output of the season. She was 8-for-13 from the field and 4-of-5 from the free throw line.
The Silver Foxes have reached at least the state semifinals in Coates’ final four years on the varsity. She is looking forward to trying to help this team finish an unbeaten season.
“It means a lot,” the senior who has signed with South Carolina said. “It’s important because no girls teams have ever done that, and we want to be the first.”
Norris said this week was a tough one for her. Dutch Fork (28-0) had defeated Aiken (19-8) twice this season by 15 and six points, respectively, but it was the fact that she was playing her alma mater that rattled her most. Norris was a member of the only girls state championship team in Aiken history in 1975, and being the team that eliminated them this season was a different feeling.
“I will tell you that got to me a little bit this week,” Norris said. “It’s tough when you have to go back and face your alma mater like that. I tried to not let my team see that emotion.”
It didn’t take long for Coates and the rest of the Silver Foxes to set the tone. Coates had nine points in the opening quarter to stake Dutch Fork to a 13-5 lead. They forced seven turnovers and limited the Green Hornets to 2-of-5 from the field.
The lead was 23-14 at the half and the only reason it was that close was because freshman guard Jhay Graham hit three 3-pointers in the quarter to score all nine Aiken points.
Dutch Fork lost its composure a bit in the third quarter and turned it over on five of its first six possessions after having four turnovers in the first half. Aiken trimmed the lead to 25-18 and had two free throw attempts and a couple of possessions to trim the lead to five points but failed to convert.
That forced Norris to call timeouts to try and settle her team.
“For three of the four quarters, we kept our composure,” Norris said. “I don’t know about the third quarter. I told them to settle down, go back to what got you here. No more rushing.”
It seemed to work as they held Aiken without a field goal for more than seven minutes and regained a double-digit lead before the end of the quarter.
Coates said that stretch of holding the Green Hornets scoreless was important to Dutch Fork’s success.
“We were getting a little anxious and maybe trying to do to much,” Coates said. “We settled down and found a way to get back under control.”
In four playoff games, the Silver Foxes allowed an average of 29 points per game.
The Green Hornets were 10-for-39 from the field with 15 turnovers. That defense is the reason Dutch Fork will have a chance at school history next week.
“We’ve been a defensive team all season. Basically, I think our opponents have been averaging about 30 points a game,” Norris said.
“We got back to what we were supposed to be doing, and it gives us a chance next week.”
A – Jhay Graham 11, Tyler 6, Muir 5, Gilmore 2. DF – Alaina Coates 20, Green 6, Daniels 4, Shull 4, Williams 4, Robinson 2.