As if junior guard Christian Hithe had not done enough in helping Spring Valley win the Class 4A state girls basketball championship Friday night, she also took it upon herself to pump up a strong contingent of Vikings fans at Colonial Life Arena.
A Spring Valley lead it held throughout had disappeared in a Goose Creak flurry to close the third quarter. As Hithe and her Spring Valley teammates exited the huddle to start the final quarter, she waved her arms in an effort to get the crowd excited.
“We feed off the crowd,” Hithe said, “so I wanted them to get us going.”
First, Hithe had to deal with Anne Long, the Spring Valley coach, attempting to settle her down. Then with the help of a pair of 3-pointers from Megan Davis and Hithe’s driving layup, Spring Valley went on a 10-point run that sealed the championship.
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“Christian, I wanted you to come back to earth a little bit, but that’s OK, that’s all right,” Long told her star afterward in the locker room. “You still performed, and you still got the crowd into it. If it worked for you, it worked for me, too.”
Just about everything else worked for Hithe as well. She already had registered a double-double with 5:40 remaining in the first half. She led Spring Valley with 19 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, two steals and numerous floor burns.
On the defensive end, she was part of the man-to-man twosome in a Spring Valley triangle-and-two defense it sprung on Dutch Fork to win the Upper State title and used to near perfection against Goose Creek. While three teammates played a triangle-zone defense, Davis was assigned to Goose Creek guard Mariah Linney, and the 5-foot-8 Hithe stuck like glue to Ericka Broughton, despite giving up five inches.
Hithe did not shut down Broughton, who finished with 11 points and nine rebounds, but the Goose Creek forward did seem out of sorts at times with Hithe dogging her all over the court.
A season ago, following Spring Valley’s Upper State semifinal loss to Dorman, Long had no idea a player of Hithe’s caliber would be wearing a Vikings uniform.
Hithe played as a freshman on the Sumter High varsity, but was limited to 12 games because of an ankle injury during her sophomore season. She played this past summer on an AAU team with several Spring Valley players.
A couple of players telephoned Long to say that Hithe might be transferring to Spring Valley.
“Well, can she play?” Long recalls asking. “I didn’t even know who she was. I had never even seen her play.”
“She plays AAU with us,” Long said the players replied.
“OK, that’s fine. When she registers, let me know.”
The Hithe family was seeking a better environment both in the community and at the school, according to Hithe, and moved to Columbia in late summer.
“We’re still learning her as a player, but I sure am glad I got her,” Long said. “It pretty much was a gift. I must be doing something right.”
There was an initial adjustment period when Hithe joined the team, mostly because she merely wanted to fit in. Once she adapted to her new environs, which also meant carrying a 4.0 grade-point average in honors courses, Hithe took off.
She went for 30 points in a victory against Orangeburg-Wilkinson to signal her arrival as a big-time player. That also was the beginning of a 16-game winning streak that culminated with Friday’s championship game.
Afterward, Hithe was fighting sinus problems that caused her to sneeze uncontrollably. It was about the only thing that slowed her down in quest for the state title.
“It’s a blessing. It’s really amazing,” she said. “I’m not going to lie. I came to Spring Valley with hopes and dreams, but I never really thought we were going to win the state championship. For me to come from Sumter and win the state championship, that just means it was a blessing and it was meant for me to come here.”
She proved to be a gift that Long was more than happy to accept.