Lower Richland held off Daniel to score a 65-55 win in the Class 3A girls basketball playoffs on Monday at the Diamond Mine to become a Final Four team for the seventh time in eight seasons.
The second-ranked Diamond Hornets (24-0) will square off against Wren at 5 p.m. on Saturday in the Upper State championship game at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville. Lower Richland lost to city rival Dreher in the semifinals a year ago, but the defending state champion Blue Devils were eliminated Monday on the road by the Golden Hurricanes.
“Daniel really pushed us but we were able to answer every challenge in the fourth quarter,” Diamond Hornets coach Debbie Stroman said. “We showed our youthfulness at times, but in the end we got it together when we had to.”
Lower Richland appeared on the verge of blowing the Lions out early, scoring the game’s first 12 points and leading 21-9 entering the second quarter. The big problem for Daniel was 14 turnovers in the opening eight minutes. But once the visiting Lion settled down and started to deal with Lower Richland’s physical defensive pressure, the game tightened up. It also helped that Lower Richland’s shooting touch went cold.
Daniel cut the Diamond Hornets’ lead to 27-21 by halftime and were within 40-36 by the end of the third quarter. Lower Richland’s shooting percentage was 17 percent in the middle periods (5-for-30) after hitting half of its 18 shots in the first quarter.
“We stopped looking to get the ball inside and starting losing patience,” Stroman said. “But we kept doing our thing on defense, and eventually we started doing the things in the offensive end that we did so successfully in the first quarter. And it was nice that we hit some big free throws.”
With the pressure on, the Diamond Hornets went 5-for-11 from the field and 15-for-25 at the free-throw line to settle the issue. Daniel (23-4) never closed the gap to fewer than three points the rest of the way.
Lower Richland veterans Jasmine Richardson and Breshay Johnson came up big in the clutch. Richardson scored five of her 14 points in the fourth quarter along with three assists, three rebounds and one block. Johnson scored seven of her game-high 20 points in the final quarter and also had four rebounds and one steal.
“When the game is one the line, you want your veteran players to push through the fatigue tired and lead the way,” Stroman said. “Jasmine and Breshay did that, but we had other players come up big, too.”
Christian Brown had five points and three boards in the fourth quarter, and Ashley Irving rang up a critical three-point play with 51 seconds to go to push the Lower Richland lead to 61-54.
“Because we fell behind so early, we had to work really hard to get back in it, and we just could never get the lead,” Daniel coach Cosandar Griffin said.
Sophomore Myranda Parham led the Lions with 16 points, but leading scorer Janie Miles was held to a season-low six points.
D: White 3, Sanford 1, Miles 6, Young 9, Myranda Parham 16, Simpson 1, Hunter 4, Dukes 6, Oglesby 2, Cobb 7. LR: Williford 1, Dayonshe’ Mitchell 11, Brown 9, Irving 8, Roach 2, Breshay Johnson 20, Jasmine Richardson 14.