The young Dreher Blue Devils girls team could not find the fuel to fire past undefeated Lancaster in the Class 3A Upper State final. Lancaster won 42-35 on Saturday at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
Lancaster had squeezed past Southside, 41-40, on Feb. 23 to earn its shot at the Upper State title, and got a combined 30 points from guards Malia Rivers and Zaria Woods on Saturday in its effort to take it.
The Blue Devils (19-4) won their first two playoff games by a total of five points. But with a 25-point win in the third round, coach Teresa Jones had hoped her Blue Devils had turned a corner.
“I thought that we had learned something. I thought that we were growing up, so to speak. But we just went back to where we were the first two games,” Jones said.
“They’re a young team, but sometimes you just have to step up, whether you’re young or not. You have to have the will and the desire to win, and I think tonight we were missing that.
“I think we just thought we were going to step on the court and it was going to magically happen for us. And, tonight, it didn’t.”
Vying for a return trip to the state finals after winning in 2014, Dreher was up and down.
The Blue Devils led by four at the end of the first period but trailed by four at the break.
“I don’t think that we were mentally ready or prepared for tonight’s game,” Jones said. “No one wanted to take over and put the team on their back.”
With junior Jhileiya Dunlap on the bench in foul trouble through much of the third quarter, Dreher was a step behind.
“Jaelynn Murray stepped up, but on the defensive end we were lackluster and we just didn’t get the job done tonight,” Jones said.
Murray, a Blue Devils sophomore, led the game with 19 points.
Playing with three fouls through most of the second half, Murray cleaned up the defensive boards for the Blue Devils, holding Lancaster to 2 points in the third. Dreher was ahead 30-26 going into the fourth quarter.
With 4:38 left to play, Lancaster’s Kaela Robinson sank two free throws to tie the score and put pressure on the Blue Devils. Zaria Woods’ layup put Lancaster ahead 32-30 with 3:54 left and Dunlap still on the bench.
Even after Dunlap returned, the Blue Devils did not get the spark they needed.
Murray scored five points to give the Blue Devils a 35-34 lead, but Lancaster answered with a 3-pointer from Robinson. On the next possession, another basket from Woods made it 39-35 Lancaster with 1:48 left.
“What I want them to take from this is you’ve got to be ready to play every time you step on the court. You can’t turn it on and turn it off when you want to. Everybody’s bringing their A-game, and you’ve got to bring yours,” Jones said.
The Blue Devils, who return four starters next season, will have plenty of time to mull that lesson.
L: Malia Rivers 12, Robinson 5, Kaela Woods 18, Thorne 1, Lamar-Slaughter 3, Garris 1, Williams 2. D: Jaelynn Murray 19, Dunlap 4, Hires 4, Jones 4, Parks 2, Wilson 2.