After a season of running away with lopsided win after lopsided win, Lower Richland’s girls could only watch along with the Colonial Center crowd as their championship fate was decided Friday night.
A foul at the buzzer sent Dorman’s Fanchon Sartor to the free-throw line with three shots and her team trailing by three points.
With the teams at their respective benches and the free-throw lane empty, Sartor sank the first shot.
When her second shot rimmed off, the Diamond Hornets breathed, cheered and reveled as their championship journey ended successfully.
Lower Richland’s 47-45 victory capped an undefeated season, a third consecutive Class 4A girls basketball championship and a 44-game winning streak.
And it left distinct memories from a bizarre ending.
“I have never seen anything like this before,” said Lower Richland coach Debbie Stroman, who claimed her fifth state title. “But, you know, maybe our challenges during the playoffs helped us because my kids held on. They stayed with it.”
After taking a 10-point, third-quarter lead only to see Dorman slowly chip away, the Diamond Hornets led 47-44 when Dorman took possession after a Stephanie Hayes free throw with 23.9 seconds to play.
Trying to solve the Diamond Hornets’ pressure defense, Dorman ran the clock below 10 seconds before Danielle Gibson missed a 3-pointer from the left corner. During the rebound attempt, the ball bounced toward midcourt. With two seconds on the clock, Sartor picked it up, turned back up court and attempted a miracle heave.
An aggressive Hayes blocked it, but she was called for a foul as the buzzer rang. That gave Sartor a chance to force overtime. Debbie Stroman called her team together.
“You know what?” she said. “I was not thinking overtime. She was not going to hit all three shots.”
Her confidence proved correct.
The narrow final marked just the fifth time during their 26-0 season that the Diamond Hornets won by fewer than 10 points. Three of those close games came in the playoffs.
But Lower Richland, which has not lost to an instate team since January 2006, showed plenty of resolve in the championship game’s final minutes.
“The competition is good,” said Morgan Stroman, who led Lower Richland with 13 points. “They were a good team. But teams have their ups and downs. We came out and we still played.”
After stretching a one-point halftime lead into a 37-27 advantage with 2:01 to play in the third quarter, it appeared Lower Richland would roll to the championship.
Dorman, offensively challenged for long stretches on Friday night, had a different idea.
The Cavaliers made 12 of 41 field goals (29 percent), while committing 24 turnovers. Dorman went 8:29 without a field goal during a stretch that covered parts of the second and third quarters, allowing the Diamond Hornets to build their 10-point lead.
But, while Lower Richland missed four shots and committed a turnover, Dorman scored the final eight points of the third quarter.
Even that did not faze Lower Richland. Carrying a 37-35 lead into the fourth quarter, the Diamond Hornets held Dorman scoreless for more than five minutes of the final period.
But when four Morgan Stroman points were all the Diamond Hornets could muster, four Danielle Gibson free throws left Lower Richland with a 41-39 lead with 3:52 to play.
Senior center Fannie Goodwin refused to let the Cavaliers get any closer. Playing her final game with the Diamond Hornets, Goodwin’s rebound and putback and two free throws Lower Richland a 46-42 lead.
Her steal with 1:20 remaining slowed the Cavaliers before Ashley Dewart’s rebound basket left Lower Richland up 46-44.
Stephanie Hayes had two chances to put the game out of reach at the free-throw line, but the Diamond Hornets junior missed three-of-four at the line down the stretch to leave Lower Richland with a 47-44 lead.
That set up the wild ending.
“They told us it was a foul, whistle, horn,” Debbie Stroman said of the game’s final sequence. “In my opinion, foul-whistle-horn means more time is on the clock, not zero-zero. But they couldn’t figure out how to do that. We’re in the Colonial Center. I think they have the technology to do that.”
That point proved trivial after Sartor missed the free throw.
“I hate it ended like that,” Dorman coach Kristy Ray said. “She’s a great kid.”
Only then could Lower Richland, which moves down to Class 3A next season, celebrate the championship they yearned to claim all season.
“We,” Goodwin said, “came through in the end.”
Reach Wiseman at (803) 771-8472.