Some odds, ends and interesting items from the state playoff basketball scene:
The major local focus will be on the Dutch Fork and Lower Richland girls and the Irmo boys. All three are looking to complete undefeated seasons with title wins.
Dutch Fork brings a 39-game winning streak into the Class 4A girls championship game against Dorman. Over the past two seasons, the Silver Foxes are 52-1 against in-state competition, the only loss coming to Spring Valley on Jan. 10, 2012. Dorman played in six straight big-school title games in the first decade of the 21st century – winning three in a row (2003-05) before losing three in a row (2006-08). If DF prevails again, the Midlands grip on the big-school prize stays firm. Midlands teams, after all, have won seven of the last eight 4A championships.
Lower Richland takes on Orangeburg-Wilkinson in a dream girls match-up in Class 3A. The Diamond Hornets (25-0) are ranked No. 2 behing the 27-1 Bruins. Both teams recently dropped down from 4A and have storied traditions. LR is 5-0 in championship games under Debbie Stroman, starting with the first title in 1994. The Diamond Hornets are the only Midlands program – boys or girls – to win multiple championships without a suffering a finals loss. O-W, meanwhile, has four titles to its credit and made it to the finals 11 times in the big school division. Dutch Fork drubbed the Bruins last season in their 4A swansong.
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Irmo has had its fair share of success under Tim Whipple. The Yellow Jackets have four titles on the books, all under Whipple. The first successful championship run was in 1991. Irmo’s latest trip to the finals in the ninth in program history, matching the all-time Midlands lead in such matters along with three other programs – the Eau Claire boys, the Columbia boys and the long-gone Olympia boys.
Goose Creek provides the opposition for Irmo. The Gators won the Lower State championship under first-year coach Blake Hall, who led North Charleston to a surprise 2A title a year ago. Hall is the first coach to reach the championship round in consecutive seasons at two different schools.
Lake Marion is playing in the Class 2A boys championship game in its first season in the lower classification. The Santee-based school was created by the consolidation of Elloree and Holly Hill-Roberts. The program has not lived up to the basketball legacy established in Holly Hill through the years. The Gators did, however, reach the 3A championship game in 2005, dropping a wild 100-97 decision. Old Holly Hill High won three straight 1A titles between 1973 and 1975 before merging with Roberts in 1981. HH-R won three 3A titles in four years (1996-99) under Willie Thomas, who is the current coach at Lower Richland. The most recent merger was expected to create a hoops powerhouse, but that has yet to materialize.
Newberry is back after losing to North Charleston by one point in the 2A finale a year ago. The Bulldogs have never won a boys hoops title. Ironically, Newberry eliminated Keenan and coach Zach Norris in the Upper State championship game. Norris guided the Bulldogs to their first title game in 1998 – a loss to Fairfield Central.
Bishop England’s girls made it to Columbia for the first time last season, nipping Columbia High, 43-41, in the Class 2A finale. The Bishops liked the experience so much, they are back for another go against another Midlands foe – Keenan this time.