Newberry’s Rayanna Davis didn’t play a minute in Saturday’s Class 3A state championship game, but her impact on the team was felt.
Davis, the all-state guard who was injured in a car accident on Feb. 27, made a surprise appearance at Colonial Life Arena, and inspired her Newberry teammates. The Bulldogs put together an emotional performance in defeating, 57-50, Ridgeland-Hardeeville for their first state championship.
“Just to see her face was unbelievable,” Newberry coach Melissa Mendenhall said. “It was great just to have her there. In the Pendleton game (third round), it was so close and she brought us through. There were times where she was crying because she thought she was going to lose the game for us. But she brought us through that game.
“So we had to win this for her.”
Mendenhall knew Davis, who was still in the hospital and watched last week’s semifinal via FaceTime, was going to make it to the game but kept that detail from her players. Once the Bulldogs, who were all wearing socks with Davis’ No. 15 on them, saw their teammate, it was jubilation.
Davis sat on the bench in the first half and behind it in the second half. There were a few moments when things got stressful and she went under the tunnel, but she was in tears crying with her teammates during the postgame celebration.
“I was standing back in the tunnel, and I saw her and I was like ‘Rayanna’!!!!” senior Kelsey Felks said. “It gave us more motivation. ‘Pray for Ray,’ that was our motto. It all was for Rayanna.”
Felks had 13 points and 23 rebounds. Newberry outrebounded the Jaguars, 46-31. Diamond Davis, the younger sister of Rayanna Davis, finished with 18 points and came up with some key plays in the fourth quarter.
The championship was redemption for the Bulldogs, who came within seconds of winning last season before Katie Callum’s layup at the buzzer gave Bishop England a 48-47 victory. Mendenhall showed that last 40 seconds of last year’s game to her players last week.
Early on, it didn’t look like Newberry would keep the outcome in suspense.
The Bulldogs went on a 13-0 run to close out the second quarter in leading 34-18 at the break. But the Jaguars, who dealt with foul trouble most of the game, used their press and got within 50-45 with 1:31 left.
Diamond Davis then hit a layup and then two free throws to give Newberry a 54-45 lead with 57 seconds left. The Bulldogs shot 23-of-32 (71.9 percent) from the free-throw line and overcame 37 turnovers in the victory.
“I was like, ‘Lord, please not a repeat of last year,’ ” Mendenhall said. “But we got the girls together and told them this is what we worked on all week. That’s why we had them watch last year, so we wanted them to know what to do in this moment.”
Quanajia Drayton led Ridgeland-Hardeeville with 17, and Jamee Mack had 13. The Jaguars were making their first state title appearance in school history.
“That is what I loved about this team the whole season. They are strong and tough and didn’t quit,” Ridgeland-Hardeeville coach Frederick Toomer said. “We fell behind early in the first half but didn’t give up.”
N: Felks 13, D. Davis 18, Miller 5, Ruff 9, Epps 12. RH: Westbrook 8, Singletary 6, Mack 13, Drayton 17, Green 4, Mikell 2.