Dutch Fork coach Faye Norris said winning back-to-back state championships the past two years created a burden for this year’s team.
But as the year has gone on, the weight began lifting, and the Silver Foxes are a win away from their third straight title after defeating Summerville 54-36 on Friday in the Class 4A Lower State final at the Florence Civic Center.
Dutch Fork will play Greenwood (75-64 winners over Dorman) at 7 p.m. next Friday at Colonial Life Arena.
“We had to get together. This team had a weight on its shoulder,” Norris said. “I told them the 2012 and 2013 season are done. Let’s worry about this season. Once we started region play, it started to kick in. This team got it together.”
The Silver Foxes (18-7) lost three starters from last year’s title team, including All-American Alaina Coates, and got off to a slow start. Dutch Fork lost five of seven games from Dec. 19 to Jan. 10, but finished by winning 14 of 15 games.
“It means so much because a lot people said we couldn’t make it back to the state championship without Alaina Coates. But we started to come together and play harder. Now we are going back,” junior guard Zhane Green said.
Green led Dutch Fork with 13 points, and Morgan Williams added 12 points and 15 rebounds.
Green scored eight of her 13 in the fourth as Summerville mounted a late comeback after a horrendous shooting start. The Green Wave didn’t score in the first quarter and missed their first 22 shots. Summerville finished the half 3-of-29 from the field and trailed 22-13 at the break.
But Summerville used its defense and took advantage of Dutch Fork foul trouble in the second half. The Green Wave came within 41-34 with 5:06 left in the fourth, but Green answered with back-to-back baskets to build the lead back to 11.
“We knew we were rushing and had to slow the tempo down and play as smooth as we could in the fourth quarter,” Green said. “And we were able to do that.”
Zuri Green led Summerville with 12 points. The Green Wave hit 15.6 percent (8-of-51) from the field in its first Lower State title game since 2000.
“I thought we had some great looks,” Summerville coach Matt Legare said. “But they kept going in and out. They kept going in and out. They have a way of holding a team to a low shooting percentage. Tip the hat to Dutch Fork, but we had our best year in some time.”