SUMTER — Heathwood Hall erased the bitter memories of three straight losses in the SCISA semifinals with a 63-47 win over Northwood Academy on Friday at the Sumter Civic Center.
The Highlanders (20-7) will take on defending champion Pinewood Prep in tonight’s title game at 6:30.
A’ja Wilson’s 33-point performance in front of at least 10 major college coaches — including Dawn Staley of South Carolina and Geno Auriemma of Connecticut — gave the Highlanders their first SCISA championship shot.
Wilson, the top-ranked junior player in the country, rang up 16-for-24 shooting from the field, grabbed 13 rebounds, blocked four shots and altered several others.
“We knew that if we were going to get our shot (at a title) we were going to have to get over this hump, so it feels really good right now,” Wilson said. “There was pressure, but we handled it well as a team. We won as a team and, hopefully, we can do it one more time.”
Getting a rematch with Pinewood Prep, the team that sent the Highlanders packing a year ago, makes the win all the sweeter.
“We started the season with the goal of playing in the last game of the season, and we did it,” Heathwood Hall coach John O’Cain said. “We sure didn’t want to have the same feeling we’ve had here the last three years.”
The Highlanders broke open a tight game in the third quarter with a 19-13 run to build a 50-43 lead entering the fourth quarter with Wilson, a 6-foot-5 forward, taking on Northwood Academy star Amber Campbell one on one. Campbell, a 5-foot-9 guard who is the nation’s No. 2 junior prospect behind Wilson, managed seven of her 17 points in the second half.
“Amber is so great at going to the basket, that we felt A’ja would have a chance to take away some of her game, or at least make it really difficult to shoot over her if she took it to the hole,” O’Cain said.
Wilson scored 21 points on 10-for-13 shooting in the second half and blocked three Campbell shots.
“A’ja’s performance in a big game like this with all the college coaches here tells you how special a player she is,” O’Cain said. “She is much more tougher-minded this season, much more determined to do anything she needs to do to help us win.”
But Wilson was not the only Heathwood contributor.
Chelsea Joseph had 11 points and six rebounds, while Victoria Dickerson and Gadson Lefft chipped in eight points apiece. Lefft helped spark the second-half surge by scoring four points and setting up Wilson for a three-point play in the opening 1:34 of the third quarter.
Northwood Academy (26-5) saw its run of three straight championship game appearances come to an end. The Highlanders held the Chargers to 16 points in the second half.
PINEWOOD PREP 67, HAMMOND 37
In the opener, defending champion Pinewood Prep blew by a youthful Hammond squad.
The veteran Panthers (26-4) set the tone off the opening tip — racing to a 8-0 lead before the Skyhawks got the ball over the timeline, and scoring 20 of the first 22 points. Pinewood’s 26-8 edge by the end of the first quarter featured five 3-pointers and 10 Hammond turnovers.
Marie Corella led the Panthers with 23 points with 10-point backing from Raygon Hendrix and Katelyn Dambaugh.
Amoshia Blakeney, the only senior on the roster, paced the Skyhawks with 11 points, while freshmen Amelia Green and Maggie Adams scored nine and seven points, respectively to end a breakthrough season for Hammond (17-7).