Top-ranked Eau Claire hosts Batesburg-Leesville in the first round of the Class 2A state girls basketball playoffs tonight.
The Shamrocks (21-2) rolled through Region 4-2A competition without incident on the way to winning the conference championship in their first season at the 2A level. Amelia Carrie, Janae Stevenson, Eboni Ross and Breonda Shannon lead EC, which is riding a 10-game losing streak and has lost only to mighty Lower Richland. B-L needed a play-in win over Newberry to advance to state after finishing in a tie for fourth place in Region 3-2A.
Eau Claire is looking for a return to the glory days when it played for four state championships between 1987 and 1998, winning a 3A title in 1993. The Shamrocks are 27-17 in the state playoffs but have either missed the cut altogether or failed to make it past the second round since advancing to the 3A Lower State championship game in 1999. B-L made the state grade this season for the first time since 2003. The Panthers days as a powerhouse have been on the wane for some time, but the program has a 21-19 playoff record and two championship game appearances in the modern era (1985 and 1988).
Eau Claire is the only Midlands entry in the Upper State bracket with a first-round home game. In addition to Batesburg-Leesville, Columbia, defending state champion Keenan and Mid-Carolina all have road dates tonight.
Columbia (8-14) plays at Saluda, hoping to add to its state-leading playoff victory total. The Capitals finished in a tie for second place with Lee Central in Region 4-2A, but had to settle for a No. 3 seed after losing a tie-breaking game to the Stallions. Not team in any classification has more state wins than Columbia (61) in the modern era. But Bobby Young’s Capitals have been on the wane of late. After advancing at least to the fourth round for 10 straight seasons, Columbia has not made it to the Final Four since 2004.
Keenan (10-11) has a tough opener in tap at Strom Thurmond. The Rebels went 10-0 on the way to the Region 3-2A in their first season after a lower level, and have one of the top players in the state in Courtney Mealing. This could be the season Strom Thurmond makes its most significant playoff run in 34 years. The Rebels have not made it as far as the third round of the playoffs since 1973. ST’s unimpressive state record is 6-21. Keenan is 24-21 in state games.
Mid-Carolina (8-12) face a Lee Central team that has fallen on relatively hard times this season. The Stallions are 34-2 is state playoff outings and are 5-0 in title games since the school opened in the 2000-01 school year. But LC’s eight-year unbeaten run in region play came to a halt this season, and its annual deep run in the playoffs. The Stallions lost to Keenan in last year’s title bout. M-C has a 7-7 state report card.