Red-hot Lexington hosts Sumter in an all-Midlands Class 4A state quarterfinal game on Tuesday.
The host Wildcats and the visiting Gamecocks are both focused on returning to the state championship game after long absences.
Lexington’s last trip to the finals was 10 years ago when it defeated Marlboro County 61-57 for big-school honors in 2000. That win marked the end of a glorious era of Wildcats hoops under Bailey Harris when LHS made it to downtown Columbia four times in five tries (1996-2000) and claimed two championships.
On the other hand, Sumter has been waiting even longer for another title shot. The Gamecocks haven’t been back since winning the 1985 4A championship with an 81-78 triumph against Eastside. Sumter scored back-to-back title wins over Orangeburg-Wilkinson in 1980 and 1981.
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Lexington’s Shaq Roland, who is averaging 19.1 points and 9.6 rebounds a game, has taken it up a notch in the playoffs. The electric sophomore guard deposited 20 points in the 60-46 first-round over Region 5-4A rival Dutch Fork, and put on a scintillating show against Berkeley and Stags star Bruce Ellington in a 91-76 overtime win in the second round. Roland out-scored Ellington 34-33 and also came away with 12 rebounds and five assists.
The Gamecocks also required overtime to move on to the third round. Freshman Shaheed Robinson missed a chance to win it in regulation when he 1-for-2 at the free throw line with 4.6 seconds to go, but Sumter dominated, 11-1, in the extra session to come away with an 82-72 win over Region 5-4A North Augusta.
Kameron Dunnican paced Sumter with a double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds), Eren Moses tallied 15 Robinson chipped in 13, nine of them coming in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Actually, the Gamecocks were fortunate to escape the Yellow Jackets, blowing a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter, going 0-for-5 at the line until Robinson’s late charity toss actually saved them from elimination.
Both teams are on nice rolls. Lexington (22-5) are 13-1 since returning to regular-season play in January, while Sumter (21-4) has won seven in a row since dropping back-to-back games to Hartsville and Carolina Forest early in the Region 6-4A campaign. The Wildcats finished in a tie for first place in 5-4A and rated the No. 1 playoff seed. The Gamecocks finished second behind Hartsville in their conference race.