From tragedy to triumph this season, the Dutch Fork girls are a new dynasty in the Midlands.
The Silver Foxes captured their third consecutive Class 4A state championship on Friday, defeating Greenwood 62-55 at Colonial Life Arena on Friday.
But the third time was anything but easy.
The Silver Foxes looked well on their way to another title, using a 20-2 run at the end of the first half to build a 20-point halftime lead. Greenwood could not find its rhythm and shot 20 percent from the field.
But with two minutes remaining in the game, Dutch Fork’s lead had shrunk to one point.
“We’ve been talking about it game after game” coach Faye Norris said. “With that one point lead, you’re still in the lead.”
During their final timeout, Norris told her team that if they controlled the tempo of the game, they would turn that small lead into a win.
Senior point guard Sydney Shull responded with four points, and an assist to Zhane Green for a layup put the Silver Foxes in control, 60-55 with 37 seconds to go. The Silver Foxes’ point guard finished with 10 points and seven assists.
Shull’s free throws with 10 seconds on the clock, set the final score and touched off a celebration for Dutch Fork (20-7).
The championship run came in the shadow of the stabbing death of Dutch Fork student Da’Von Capers, a member of the school’s football team.
“It feels great. We worked really hard. You know, it’s really all teamwork,” junior Morgan Williams said. “We had a common goal, to win it for Cape.”
Added Shull: “We lost a member of our family, Capers, and it was a wide awakening for us. We knew we had to win this for him, for his family.”
Greenwood (23-7) outscored Dutch Fork 20-13 in the third, and seven consecutive points from Tianna Swearinger brought the Eagles to within six points with 6:34 to play.
Then Iyanna Jones knocked down a 3-pointer to chop the deficit to 52-49. A backcourt steal and another Swearinger bucket made it 52-51.
Swearinger led the game with 30 points, 13 in the fourth quarter, but she could not put her team back in front. She missed her final four attempts.
“Greenwood is a comeback team. They came back in the last two games to get here,” Norris said.
The Silver Foxes lost some big contributors after the 2013 title game, and with the departure of Alaina Coates in the post, it was unclear whether the Silver Foxes would reach the championship this season. Dutch Fork had a rocky start, Norris said, but the team remained level-headed and confident.
Williams took control in the post and put up a double-double – 17 points and 13 rebounds – to lift the Silver Foxes to the crown.
In the early going, Dutch Fork trailed early but came on strong in the final three minutes of the first quarter.
Zhane Green’s 3-pointer off an assist from point guard Shull made it a one-point game. Williams added five points in the final two minutes of the period to put the Silver Foxes ahead 16-12 after one.
Dutch Fork then outscored Greenwood 10-5 over the next four minutes, pushing its lead to 26-17 with 3:38 left in the half and prompting the Dutch fans to begin chanting “I believe that we will win.”
By halftime there was little doubt.
As the Eagles’ frustration grew, so did the Silver Fox lead.
Greenwood was scoreless in the final five minutes of the half, and with scoring from Olivia Anderson and Green, the Silver Foxes built their halftime lead to 37-17. Dutch Fork scored 15 points off Greenwood’s 10 first half turnovers.
Green posted 11 points in the half, and finished with 21 points, to lead the Silver Foxes.