Keenan has had to battle discipline issues and injuries much of the season, but the Raiders are back where they want to be - they'd just like a different ending.
Using a suffocating defense, Keenan defeated Newberry 63-34 Wednesday night to advance to its third consecutive Upper State title game. Southside eliminated the Raiders each of the past two seasons in the state semifinals, and the two-time defending Class 2A champion Tigers again will be the opponent Saturday at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville.
"We had to discipline some guys, and really and truly we didn't have our full team playing together until about five games remained in the regular season," Keenan coach Zach Norris said. "But we have some veterans that have been through the wars, so they do know what to expect."
Keenan (19-8) has won 13 in a row, and if the Raiders continue to play defense the way they did against the Bulldogs, they have to like their chances the rest of the playoffs.
In the first half, Keenan forced 22 turnovers and held Newberry to six field-goal attempts. Of those,, two were blocked. The Bulldogs (16-10) didn't score a field goal until 10:07 had elapsed.
Keenan opened with a 21-4 run and forced 15 turnovers during that span. It was 30-10 at the half.
"I told the kids at halftime they did an excellent job playing defense, but I didn't know it was that good," Norris said. "We went over their sets, and they do a lot of the things we do, so our kids recognized (it) and knew what to do. We overplayed a lot."
Newberry coach Chad Cary knew what the Raiders were capable of doing, and having a freshman and a sophomore in his starting lineup worried him.
"We haven't seen defense like that all season," Cary said. "We tried to simulate it in practice because we knew it was coming. We've got some young guards, and they didn't handle it. (Keenan) knew everything we ran, and whatever we ran, they were already there. We were shell-shocked a little bit."
Keenan forced Newberry into 34 turnovers, with 22 coming on steals. Eric Washington led the way with 10 thefts, Dennis Rowe and Jacob Green adding four apiece, and Bradley Smith had three.
It was Smith and Rowe who carried the balanced offensive attack. They combined for 20 points in the first half; Smith finished with 17 points, and Rowe had 13. Four other players scored six or more points, and Norris was pleased with the scoring distribution.
"We expect that out of those two," Norris said. "But the key was you see a lot of six and sevens in that (stat) book, and when that happens, we are at our best."
The Bulldogs mounted a small challenge in the third quarter. They went on an 8-0 run and trimmed the deficit to 16 points, but the Raiders answered with a 7-0 spurt. The lead was never less than 20 the rest of the way.
As the Raiders were leaving the locker room, they had heard Southside was going to be the opponent in the Upper State final. It got their attention.
"That is probably one of our best games," Norris said. "Hopefully we can get two more, and it starts by getting over the hump Saturday."
N: Arkiem Young 13, Bethea 8, Harding 6, Boulware 3, Alexander 2, Workman 2. K: Bradley Smith 17, Dennis Rowe 13, Washington 7, Reed 7, Green 6, Johnson 6, Morgan 4, Stroman 2, Barnes 1. Rec: N 16-10, K 19-8.