Keenan’s 57-47 win over Burke in the Class 2A state boys basketball championship game at Colonial Life Arena on Saturday not only ended the program’s nine-year title drought, it also salvaged Midlands pride at the at the annual Weekend of Champions.
In the wake of Friday night losses by the Spring Valley girls and the Lexington boys in the two 4A finales, Keenan’s first 2A triumph averted a rare Midlands hoops title void. In fact, total area failure to win at least one championship has happened only two times (2005 and 2003) since the playoffs were expanded to 32 teams in 1993.
The Raiders 5-0 postseason run this season netted a couple of significant facts. Keenan is now tied with Hemingway for third place with 57 postseason wins on the all-time list since the dawn of the modern era in 1970-71. Moreover, the program, which is 5-1 in state championship games through the years, earned the distinction of being the only basketball program (boys or girls) to ever win state titles in three different classifications. Keenan’s first championship in 1975 was at the 4A level, followed by three wins in 3A (1991, 2000-01).
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Hemingway’s 66-58 win over Great Falls in Class 1A, ended a six-year title drought and allowed the Tigers to keep pace with Keenan in playoffs wins and state championships earned. Hemingway enjoys a slight edge over the Raiders in overall playoff winning percentage - .760 (57-18) to .722 (57-22). Keenan, on the other hand, has the advantage in championship-game success rate – prevailing five times in six tries, while the Tigers are 5-4 on the big stage.
Great Falls made it to the finals for a record 17th time under coach John Smith but also suffered its 11 loss in a state championship game. Interestingly, the Red Devils have more championship game losses than any other school in the state has state titles.
Gaffney’s 71-57 win over Lexington in the 4A boys final only added fuel to the argument that the school’s standing in hoops is now at a higher level than football. Say it ain’t so. It’s hard to dispute the facts. For decades, basketball was merely a diversion in Cherokee County between the end of football season at the start of spring practice. Not so any more. Since arrival of coach Mark Huff in the early 2000s, the basketball team has simply out-performed the fabled football program. Since the coming-out party under Huff in the 2002-03 season, Gaffney sports a gaudy 25-3 playoff record with four championships. During the same span, the football team has gone 18-5 in the playoffs with three titles.
First-time champions included the Daniel boys (3A), the Southside girls (2A) and the Goose Creek girls (4A), while defending girls champions Spring Valley (4A) and Marion (2A) were dealt bitter defeats.
Daniel dropped Lake City, another first-time finalist, 59-42 in the last game of the marathon weekend of hoops. Prior to 2010, the Lions never made past the third round of the playoffs.
Southside, which advanced to the finals for the first time by nipping Midlands teams Keenan and Eau Claire in the third and fourth rounds, respectively, ended the reign of Marion, 66-64. Before going on their 5-0 postseason run this season, the Tigers sported a less-than-glowing 3-12 playoff record.
Goose Creek, which beat Spring Valley 52-51 in the championship game of the Viking Invitational preseason tournament in November, beat the defending champions 64-63 in the rematch to complete its transformation under coach Tim Baldwin. The Gators made the state playoffs just three times between 1971 and 1999, losing all three of their initial postseason outings. Since 2000, GC is 21-9 in the playoffs and finally reached the Promised Land with its thrilling come-from-behind win over the vaunted Vikings.
The only defending champion to prevail was the Christ Church girls, who beat Hardeeville in the 1A finale for the second year in a row. The Cavaliers, who lost to C.E. Murray in the 2004 small-school title bout, is 13-1 in the playoffs over the past three seasons.