CHARLESTON - If there was any question that nerves would be a problem for the young Dutch Fork team in the Class 4A lower state championship, it was answered quickly.
The Silver Foxes started three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior, and the inexperience in big games showed early as an experienced Goose Creek squad cruised to a 63-47 victory Friday night at The Citadel's McAlister Fieldhouse.
"I didn't think nerves were going to be a factor, but it looked like it did," Dutch Fork coach Faye Norris said. "We came in flat and not aggressive. We lost sight of the ball and didn't look like we had our composure until the fourth quarter."
The Gators (26-1) haven't lost to an instate school this year and have played in the lower state championship three of the past four years. They are finally making the trip to Columbia and will face defending state champion Spring Valley, a 59-36 winner against Greenwood, in the state title game next Friday at Colonial Life Arena.
Dutch Fork had won nine in a row after going through a three-game losing streak in the mid-region schedule. But against the Gators' quick defense, they had trouble keeping up.
The Silver Foxes (21-6) trailed 27-22 at the half despite 19 first-half turnovers. They finished with 33 for the game, and it seemed to catch up with them in the second half.
"We turned it over a lot," Norris said. "It didn't seem like we knew what to do against their press. Even when we did get it in the half-court, we made mistakes to give them the ball back."
Goose Creek using a trapping full-court defense, and that helped them outscore the Silver Foxes 18-9 in the third period to push the lead to double-digits. The Silver Foxes made on last push by opening the fourth quarter on a 9-2 run, but they never got closer than seven points in the final eight minutes.
"We were able to get pressure on them and used our trapping defense to get some easy transition baskets," Goose Creek coach Tim Baldwin said. "I thought one of the keys was us being able to limit their touches inside and get out and score off of some of those mistakes."
The two teams met in the season-opener with the Gators winning 57-46. It was much of the same this time. Ashley Fields led Goose Creek with 18 points and she had plenty of help with Aleighsa Welch chipping in 16 and N'Dea Bryant adding 10 points.
Donnesha Shuler led the Silver Foxes with 30 points and Shelby Curtis added 3-pointers for 12 points, but 6-foot-4 freshman Alaina Coates was a non-factor. Coates, the second-leading scorer during the regular season, finished with three points, none in the second half.
"They double-teamed her," Norris said. "Whichever side the ball went to, they put two people on her (Coates). She's a freshman so she might have gotten frustrated."
GC: Ashley Fields 18, Aleighsa Welch 16, N'Dea Bryant 10, Wright 4, Hawkins 6, Nelson 4, Jones 3. DF: Donnesha Shuler 30, Shelby Curtis 12, Coates 3, Stokes 2.