Despite a slow start, Class 4A favorite Spring Valley pulled out a victory in the final quarter of its first regular season matchup, defeating No. 2 Irmo 35-31 on Tuesday.
Vikings guard Shaquita Walker sank four free throws in the final two minutes to seal the win for the 2-1 Vikings. Walker scored a game-high 12 points.
With leading scorer Asia Dozier benched after having arthroscopic surgery on her right knee, the Vikings struggled to score. Spring Valley trailed through the first three quarters after falling behind 9-1 in the first quarter. Irmo (3-1) led by 11 early in the second period, stifling the Vikings with zone defense.
"We knew we needed to play zone to slow the tempo of the game, because otherwise they can just run away," Irmo coach Monica Williams said.
As Williams had hoped, the Yellow Jackets' defense did well to limit Spring Valley post player Xylina McDaniel.
"That was a really great battle between them and I thought Sarah (Green) did a really good job," Williams said.
Green made a big impact for the Yellow Jackets inside, with five blocked shots, seven rebounds and a team-leading eight points from beneath the basket. Meanwhile, McDaniel grabbed 11 rebounds but was limited to eight points inside.
"They were playing a pretty tight zone on Xylina," Long said. "They just collapsed on her every time and when that happens, you've got to be able to make that outside shot."
With 14 points in the second quarter and 11 in the third, the Vikings narrowed the gap to 29-26 going into the final period.
Walker got the Vikings rolling then with a steal and fast-break layup to cut the deficit to one. On the next possession, Briana Robinson proved she had found her shot, making a 3-pointer to take the lead. Up by two, the Vikings ran nearly two minutes off the clock holding the ball to force Irmo out of its zone. But coming out a timeout with four minutes to go, the Vikings committed two turnovers, the first of which Irmo pushed up court and turned into a game-tying layup.
Irmo could push no further though.
"We got into an offensive funk. I mean, we scored, what, two points in the fourth quarter," Williams said. "But our girls did give it their best effort and that's what you've got to get in a game against the No. 1 team in the state."
Long said she expected some lag as her team is still making adjustments to compensate for Dozier's absence, and was relieved when the Vikings finally turned the corner in the last minutes.
"We just got tenacious at the end and pulled it out with sheer determination," Long said.
Spring Valley 1 14 11 9-35 Irmo 9 12 8 2-31
Leaders: SV Shaquita Walker 12, Bryan 7, Ruff 5, McDaniel 5, Robinson 4, Lawrence 2. I Britt 3, McCants 5, Golden 4, Stanton 9, Green 8, Gathers 2.