GREENVILLE — With the defending class 3A champion Lower Richland Diamond Hornets and 2012 champion Dreher Blue Devils squaring off for the third time this season, the Upper State final was a test of who wanted it more.
Desire helped Dreher earn the victory, as the Blue Devils defeated Lower Richland 56-50 at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on Saturday.
“We had one sole purpose, and that was to beat LR. We had already lost to them twice, and we weren’t going to let them beat us three times. And I’d rather lose those two games in the region than to lose right here,” said Kaydra Duckett, Dreher’s Class 3A player of the year. “We played with heart, and heart got us a win.”
Duckett led the game with 24 points.
The lead changed four times in the final three minutes as the squads traded baskets in an offensive shootout. Dejah Williford’s 3-pointer put Lower Richland ahead 50-48 with 1:50 to go, but Duckett evened the score with a steal and two free throws on the next possession.
Sophomore Jhileiya Dunlap hit three free throws to put Dreher ahead 53-50 with 20.3 seconds left, and Makayla Johnson’s layup at 12.3 seconds set the final score.
Dreher started the second half by capitalizing on back-to-back Diamond Hornets turnovers. Jalen Murray fed Kaydra Duckett off the first takeaway for a fastbreak layup. Then Duckett added another strip and finished at the basket, to put Dreher ahead 22-17.
Dunlap added a basket with an assist from Johnson, and then a Shaniqwa Hopkins 3-pointer gave the Blue Devils their largest lead of the game, 27-19.
The Diamond Hornets cut into their deficit, working back to 28-25, and Dreher’s lead was 34-31 going into the final session.
Ashley Irving scored three points to make it a two-point game, and with 5:42 remaining, Breshay Johnson’s driving layup knotted the score. Then, in two trips to the line in the next 30 seconds, Johnson put the Diamond Hornets ahead 41-38.
Duckett fed Dunlap in the low-post for a layup to pull Dreher within one.
“Basically , we got away from what we do, and that’s play really good defense,” coach Debbie Stroman said. “They had a seven-point lead, we come back, we take a four-point lead. For a couple of minutes, we should be able to maintain that lead. It got away from us.”
Nine first-half turnovers held up the Diamond Hornets, and 6-of-24 field shooting did not help. But the Blue Devils were in no position to capitalize, as Dreher also was 25 percent from the floor in the half.
The first half featured nine lead changes, and Dreher was ahead 18-17 at halftime despite missing seven of its 10 free throw attempts. Duckett posted 11 points in the half to lift the Blue Devils.
“The girls were so anxious, and they wanted to win so badly and in the first half we were so nervous and so jittery that we just couldn’t get it together,” Jones said.
“At halftime we told them we worked too hard to get here, and that they were the better team, and they had to act like it,” she said.
D: Parks 3, Johnson 8, Hopkins 6, Murray 6, Dunlap 9, Kaydra Duckett 24. LR: Dejah Williford 14, Breshay Johnson 14, Ashley Irving 11, Bolton 2, Roach 4, Washington 5.