Basketball helped heal a community, at least for a few short hours Tuesday night.
Less than 24 hours after classmate DaVon Capers was stabbed and killed in an altercation after a game against Lexington, the Dutch Fork boys and girls teams were back on the floor for the regular season finale and senior night against North Augusta.
The draining, emotional day was compounded by the fact both games held region and playoff implications. The Silver Foxes succeed in putting the distractions behind them to emerge victorious, albeit in distinctly different ways.
In the opener, the Dutch Fork girls blitzed North Augusta 72-8 in game that featured teams tied for the region lead.
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The boys then scored a 66-62 victory over the Yellow Jackets that guarantees the Silver Foxes no worse than a second-place finish in the region. Dutch Fork can win Region 5-4A if North Augusta loses to Aiken on Wednesday night. North Augusta will claim the region title with a win on Wednesday. Regardless, the Silver Foxes will be at home to open the Class 4A playoffs against either Carolina Forest or Ridge View on Thursday.
But being able to endure a day that began with a prayer at school and finished with a school coming together meant more for the healing process than many can image.
The student section was full by the time the boys game tipped off. A moment of silence was held before the start of both games. Several students, players and cheerleaders were overcome with emotion and openly cried during the proceedings.
“It was a tough loss, but I thought about it and what would Cape want me to do for him in his honor,” boys senior guard Christian Mills said. “The best thing we could do is come out and get a win for him, and we did.”
Dutch Fork girls guard Zhane Green was wiping away tears as the starting lineups were announced. She was able to erase those tears by tip-off and scored the first basket of the game that sent the Silver Foxes on the road to the rout. They lost by two points the first time they played North Augusta.
“We knew we had to win the region for this family and knew we had to play hard because it was a terrible loss for our community after the game (Monday) night,” Green said. “We said we were going to play hard, never give up and play for Cape so we can move forward. We knew we had to play hard for him and prayed to God to get us through it.”
The victory gives the Dutch Fork girls (14-7, 9-1) their fifth region title in coach Faye Norris six years at the helm. She was impressed with the way her team handled the trying day. They will open the Class 4A playoffs at home on Thursday against Ridge View.
“It was not a regular school day here, obviously,” Norris said. “It was an emotional day, but we found a way to get through it.”
The boys game turned into a nail-biter at the end after Dutch Fork (17-7, 8-2) opened a 14-point lead in the middle of the fourth quarter. The Yellow Jackets rallied with a 10-0 spurt to get within four points at 57-53 with a little over two minutes remaining. Jordan Davis ended the Dutch Fork drought when he connected on a 3-pointer to push the lead back to seven. North Augusta got back within 64-62 on a 3-pointer from Christian Davis with nine seconds remaining, but Mills sealed the win when he made two free throws with 5.5 seconds left.
Nearly all of the boys basketball players went to the hospital after hearing the news of Capers stabbing Monday night. They honored him by wearing black arm bands.
“It didn’t hit me until I got home from the hospital,” Mills said. “I realized life is so short. At school, everyone was so supportive and it helped everyone get through the day. Hopefully, tonight can help the Dutch Fork community in the healing process.”
The Silver Foxes had to win by at least 10 points to earn the No. 1 seed for the playoffs. They will not know their playoff fate until later Wednesday night, but that did not seem to matter.
“We had the chaplain from (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) come in and talk to the guys and prayed with them,” boys coach Matt Brown said. “They could talk to him one-on-one, but after that we got focused. We knew we had a task at hand, and we had to win this game for Cape.
“They played their heart out for him. I’m proud of them.”
GIRLS: Dutch Fork 72 North Augusta 8
NA: Matthews 3, Stone 3, Blocker 1, Matthews 1. DF: Morgan Williams 18, Zhane Green 14, Alexis Frasier 13, Daniel 6, Dean 5, Moore 4, Shull 4, Mills 4, Campbell 2, Anderson 2.
BOYS: Dutch Fork 66 North Augusta 62
NA: Chandler Harrison 22, Christian Davis 13, Malik Dunbar 12, Johnson 8, Smith 5, West 2. DF: Watson Harris 18, Christian Mills 16, Davis 8, Thomas 7, Poole 7, Frasier 6, Williams 4.