The dream for A’ja Wilson and the Heathwood Hall girls basketball team became reality on Saturday at the Sumter County Civic Center.
Wilson, the national high school player of the year, concluded her remarkable five-career with an MVP performance in the Highlanders’ 66-58 overtime victory over Northwood Academy in the SCISA Class 3A championship game.
It was the first title for the Highlander girls since joining SCISA in 1997, and the first postseason triumph for the program since a 1994 title run in the Carolinas Independent Schools Athletic Association organization based in Charlotte.
Wilson willed the Highlanders to the title, hitting a 3-pointer at the regulation buzzer to send the game into overtime.
“We told ourselves over and over that it takes more than one player to win a championship, and I couldn’t be prouder of the way we played as a team,” said Wilson, who finishes her Heathwood Hall career with 2,943 points.
But Wilson carried the team to the top with 37 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks. One score was bigger than her shot from the top of the key that saved the Highlanders from another heartbreaking tournament outcome.
“As we came down the court, I told everybody, ‘I got it,’ and it felt good leaving my hand,” she said. “I never made a bigger shot.”
The Highlanders had a 51-44 lead with 2:08 to go in regulation but saw the Chargers rally to take a 55-52 lead on a 3-pointers by Eden Crowell with 19 seconds left and two free throws by Amber Campbell with seven seconds left.
That set the stage for Wilson.
It was all Highlanders in the extra session as Wilson and Gadson Lefft each scored four points.
Chargers star Amber Campbell, who scored 33 points, fired in a 3-pointer to cut the Heathwood lead to 61-58 with 23 seconds remaining, but that was the last of the Northwood scoring.
Wilson’s two free throws made it a two-possession game seven seconds later, and Lefft closed it with a 3-point play with one tick showing to finish with 11 points.
“We know what it’s like to come up short, so this is really special,” said Highlanders coach John O’Cain, whose team finished 23-4.
“I’m so dang proud of our seniors. They showed tremendous heart tonight, especially when things didn’t go our way. They weren’t going to leave here without a win.”
N: Campbell 33, Powell 6, Heath 4, Crowell 3, Martin 10, Davis 2. HH: Wilson 37, Lefft 11, Joseph 9, Dickerson 5, Scott 4.