Columbia ran past visiting Pendleton 54-33 in the second round of the Class 2A state girls basketball playoffs to earn its first Elite Eight spot in three years.
Considering the program’s history, three years qualifies as a serious slump.
Between 1991 and 2005, the Capitals advanced at least to the third round of the postseason 13 times in 15 tries – a span that also featured a run of 12 straight Elite Eight appearances, eight trips to the state finals and five championships.
But since 2006, the Capitals have had just one playoff ride to the third round and even suffered a losing season – only the second during Bobby Young’s long, distinguished career at the Columbia helm.
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It’s safe to say the young Capitals are back. Columbia (20-3) will host either Lee Central or Chesnee on Tuesday with a berth in the Upper State championship game on the line.
“It’s nice to be back (to the third round),” said Young. “We’re still young, but we’re more mature, more knowledgeable than we were last season. You can call it experience. We played real good ball in the first five games of the season, but lost it for a while. We’re starting to get back to that level we were at early in the year.”
The Capitals were never in trouble against the Bulldogs, jumping out to a 16-9 lead by the end of the first quarter and expanding the advantage to 34-15 by halftime.
Brittany Pimpleton, the only senior in the regular rotation, led the way with 23 points. The Capitals veteran leader scored 16 of her game high total in the first half, posting four field goals in the first and second quarters. Pimpleton was hot from the perimeter, but did not score from 3-point range.
“For the most part we did a goof job running the (motion) offense and shot the ball well,” said Young. “But I was most happy with our defense tonight. Because we weren’t at a size disadvantage for a change, we could play straight man and our help side defense was good.”
Freshman forward Alexis Foulks had one of her best games of the season, scoring 10 of her 11 points to help build the commanding lead at the break. The Capitals rare inside bonanza also including nine points combined from Tierra Richardson, Jerea Myers and Chanice Hilton.
Young said the key factor in Columbia’s longest playoff run in recent years is a simple matter of playing at home. The Capitals shared the Region 3 championship with Eau Claire, and then beat the Shamrocks in a tiebreaker game to earn the region’s No. 1 seed.
“It’s hard to go far in the playoffs when you have to play on the road,” he said . “Playing at home just makes a big difference.”