Dutch Fork advanced to the semifinals of the Class 4A state girls basketball playoffs for the fifth straight season thanks to a down-to-the-wire, 45-38 win against West Florence on Tuesday.
The two-time defending state champion Silver Foxes (18-7) outscored the visiting Knights 8-0 in the final 2:20 to make the final four.
“We started the year under a lot of pressure because of the 29-0 record the year ago,” Dutch Fork coach Faye Norris said. “I had to stress that 29-0 was the 2013 team, that we had to forget all about that and become the 2014 team. It took a little while to get out from under the weight of expectation and relax. Now, we’re playing extremely well as a team and with a lot of confidence.”
West Florence (21-5) came in with a height advantage as three starters stood 6-foot or taller.
But it was Dutch Fork’s Morgan Williams who emerged as the dominant player. The 5-8 junior rang up a game-high 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. It was Williams’ power move to the basket for a score that put the Silver Foxes ahead for good, 39-38, with 2:20 to go.
“We work hard in practice every day, pushing ourselves to get better,” Williams said. “We keep our attention focused on the main goal – to win state.”
Dutch Fork, which has won eight in a row and 12 of its past 13, offset West Florence’s size edge with defensive quickness and good outside shooting. Williams also joined the perimeter scoring act.
“We knew we’d have to offset their size somehow, and it had to be our outside shooting,” said Norris. “And it turned out to be the key factor for us in the game.”
West Florence opened the game with a 7-2 spurt, but the Silver Foxes slowly gained control for the rest of the first half and built the biggest lead of the game, 28-18, early in the third quarter.
The Knights, however, went on a 14-4 surge to tie the score at 32 entering the fourth quarter. It was a back-and-forth affair until Dutch Fork pulled away down the stretch. Maya Jackson staked West Florence to its last lead by scoring the team’s final two points of the game from the free-throw line with 3:20 remaining.
Zhane Dean backed Williams with 11 points, including two free throws for a 43-38 lead that iced the game with 51 seconds to go.
Dutch Fork faces Summerville in the Lower State championship game on Friday at the Florence Civic Center. The Green Wave advanced with a 55-52 win against Goose Creek.