Irmo’s bid for a second consecutive boys Class 4A championship ended Friday night as Hillcrest edged the Yellow Jackets 54-52 in the Upper State final at Bon Secours Wellness Center.
“We weren’t able to execute down the stretch of the game,” Irmo coach Tim Whipple said.
The Yellow Jackets (26-2) were down by one heading into the final eight minutes. Jevante Gross led Irmo back with four points to knot the score at 49 with five minutes to go.
With two minutes left, Will Jamison converted a Hillcrest turnover into a layup that put Irmo ahead 51-49. But Darius White put up consecutive buckets as Hillcrest reclaimed the lead.
Gross knocked in a free throw to make it a one-point game with under a minute to go – and when the Yellow Jackets got the ball back trailing 53-52 with 19.2 seconds to go – Whipple called two timeouts.
“Score. That’s what I was telling them, just score,” Whipple said.
The Yellow Jackets tried to set up a play off the inbounds pass, but it did not work as planned.
“It actually wasn’t exactly what we wanted but it was an option off the play,” Whipple added.
Freshman Devontae Shuler was fouled while driving the lane with 11.7 seconds to go and missed the game-tying free throw. Hillcrest got the rebound and was fouled, and R.J. Cain sank the first free throw to set the score at 54-52.
Irmo grabbed the rebound after the missed second free throw, but Heyward Goodson’s desperation 3 at the buzzer was off the mark.
Gross finished with 16 points.
The Yellow Jackets had recovered from a five-point halftime deficit, moving ahead while Hillcrest was 0-for-3 from 3-point range. But Jevante Gross picked up his fourth foul early in the period, and Randall Shaw knotted the score shortly thereafter with his fourth 3-pointer.
“They made a lot of 3’s tonight, which I think helped them a lot to be able to, again, stay close in the game where I think we could have gotten a little lead there. But, again, they shot the ball well,” Whipple said.
Hillcrest’s Shaw led the game with 20 points.
“It was crucial. I knew my teammates needed 3-point shots. They wanted me to knock them down, so I just kept trying to knock them down,” said Shaw, who was 5-of-10 from 3-point range.
Javis Howard’s early blocks helped limit Hillcrest’s inside shooting, and the Rams were held to 3-of-8 shooting in the first five minutes. But Hillcrest scored points off an Irmo turnover, and Shaw’s first 3-pointer put the Rams up 13-11 with 1:50 left to go in the first. An Irmo run led to a seven-point swing, and Irmo was ahead 18-16 at the end of the quarter.
But in the second, the Rams lit up the rim. With consecutive 3’s from Shaw and Uriah Morris, the Rams went up by four.
Shuler dropped in a layup to knot the score at 24 with three minutes left in the half. Hillcrest then took its biggest lead, outscoring Irmo 13-8 as the Yellow Jackets made two field goals.
Shaw put up six more points – including three at the line after Gross picked up his third foul – and the Rams took a 37-32 lead into the break.
“I have a tremendous bunch of young men that have an incredible amount of integrity both on and off the floor and I am extremely proud of them and the way they represent Irmo,” Whipple said.