FAYE NORRIS REMINDED her Dutch Fork girls basketball team throughout the season that there was one sure-fire way to silence the voices they were hearing. The voices that said a third consecutive state championship was unattainable.
“Do it,” she told them, “and that voice will be silenced.”
Dutch Fork did it Friday night at Colonial Life Arena, holding off a furious second-half rally by Greenwood to claim the Class 4A title with a 62-55 victory.
“When you have the beginning of the season like we had, it’s much sweeter,” Norris said by way of comparing this title to the previous two.
Dutch Fork carried a 9-7 record early on, and the doubters were looking like hungry sharks circling the team. Yet as the losses mounted and the team attempted to find its way, Norris said she never saw slumped shoulders or hung heads.
“You knew everybody was telling them, last year they had 29-0, perfect season, you’re not going to do as well,” Norris said. “A high school kid, it plays on their mind.”
That perfect team of a season ago featured center Alaina Coates, whose game was sound enough to earn SEC Freshman of the Year honors for South Carolina this season. “No Coates, No Championship” seemed to be the buzz around Dutch Fork.
Yet those skeptics, in pointing to what the Silver Foxes did not have, failed to realize what Dutch Fork did have – and that was three stalwarts and a group that came to practice every day with an attitude, a positive one that eventually produced 11 consecutive wins.
“Every practice, and every new game, those kids came back with a fresh, new attitude,” Norris said. “It hurt when we lost, but when we came back to practice the next day it was a fresh attitude, ready to learn. No bitterness.”
That example was set by senior point guard Sydney Shull, who for all practical purposes should have missed her final season when she injured her shoulder in the second game. She opted to postpone the surgery until after the season, and played through the pain while wearing a harness under her jersey.
Shull stepped to the fore Friday when her team needed her most. Greenwood had trimmed what once was a 21-point lead to 58-55 in the final minute. That’s when, in quick succession, Shull drove to the basket for a layup, fed Zhane Green for a breakaway layup and sank the two clinching free throws with 6 seconds to go. Shull finished with 10 points and eight assists.
Then there was junior forward Morgan Williams, who did not start because of a uniform malfunction, then proceeded to do everything except distribute water bottles to her teammates. She accumulated 17 points, 13 rebounds and numerous floor burns diving for loose balls. She also stopped once to help a Greenwood player off the floor, and later used a towel to wipe sweat off the floor.
After waiting the past two seasons as Coates’ understudy, Williams was not going to let a chance to shine pass her by.
“If you work hard, your opportunity will come,” Williams said afterward.
The same held true for Green, a junior guard, who maneuvered in and around Greenwood’s zone defense in search of vacant space to launch a 3-pointer. Three times, she found that area from the deep corner near the baseline, and two more times she popped home 3-pointers from the top of the key. She finished with 21 points.
“Coach told me to keep moving, keep moving until I got open,” Green said. “That’s what I did.”
Even with all that, it appeared Dutch Fork might wither under Greenwood’s full-court pressure, which produced 17 turnovers, frequent easy layups and a 14-2 blitz to open the third quarter. Just when Dutch Fork looked to be riding a wave to another championship, the Silver Foxes were walloped by a typhoon. Yet they never panicked.
“You’ve got to keep your composure, that’s important,” Williams said. “People smell fear. If you start getting scared, they’re going to know. They’re going to take over.”
Williams first hit a reverse layup from the baseline, then Green added a difficult turn-around jumper from 8-feet, and Shull finished it off by scoring the game’s final six points.
Dutch Fork had its third consecutive state title.
Afterward, Norris gathered her team in the locker room for one final talk. She spoke one final time about those voices the team heard all season saying they could not win the title.
“You silenced a lot of voices,” she said.