COLUMBIA, SC — Having labeled the 2013-14 campaign a season of redemption, Dreher seniors Kaydra Duckett and Makayla Johnson had hoped to be crying tears of joy after Saturday’s Class 3A championship game.
But after the Blue Devils defeated Crestwood 56-44, Duckett and Johnson were dry-eyed and smiling wide at Colonial Life Arena.
“I can’t even cry, I’m just so happy,” said Duckett, who led the Blue Devils with 24 points and 12 rebounds.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to go out any other way,” added Johnson, who also posted a double-double with 14 rebounds and 10 points.
It was the second championship in three seasons for the Blue Devils. Duckett and Johnson were sophomores when Dreher won in 2012, and they were disappointed with themselves when the squad exited last year’s tournament after the third round.
“That made us hungrier. It made us want it more this year,” Johnson said.
Added Duckett: “We had one agenda. That was to come here and to win.”
“They knew they didn’t want to let it slip through their hands, and whatever they needed to do there were going to do to win tonight,” coach Teresa Jones said.
Jones said the Blue Devils (22-4) “wanted it so badly and I think sometimes when you want something so badly, the nerves kind of play a part in it.”
The Blue Devils came out flat in the second half, and nearly surrendered a 20-point lead. After holding Crestwood to nine points in the first half, Dreher gave up 35 as the Knights rallied.
Crestwood’s Cawasha Ceasar led the charge with 23 points in the second half, finishing with a game-leading 25 points.
But with Duckett at the helm, the Blue Devils held on. The Class 3A player of the year put up 15 points in the final eight minutes to keep the Blue Devils on top.
The Blue Devils led by 20 early in the second half, but with 1:20 left to play, Crestwood had stolen and scrapped its way back into the game, 49-43.
Johnson and Jhileiya Dunlap both fouled out in the final three minutes of the game, but the Blue Devils hung on as Duckett posted six points in the final minutes.
Led by sophomore Jhileiya Dunlap, the Blue Devils started strong. Dunlap put up six points and three rebounds in the first three minutes of the game. Knights guard Crystal Bennett hit a 3-pointer that pulled Crestwood within one, 10-9, late in the first quarter.
But the Blue Devils kept the lid on Crestwood’s basket as the frazzled Knights were 0-for-19 over the last 11 minutes of the half.
The Blue Devils took a 10-point lead into the second quarter and led 27-9 at halftime.
Crestwood (25-4) was trailing by 20 when it finally broke its scoreless run two minutes into the second half.
The Knights posted nine unanswered points to chop the Dreher lead back to 11, the smallest it had been since the first quarter.
And then, with Dunlap and Johnson on the bench with four fouls each, the Crestwood Knights outscored Dreher 17-8 in the third to make it a ballgame, 35-26, to start the final quarter.
“We really have to give Crestwood a lot of credit because their girls had heart, they stayed in it,” Jones said.