High School Sports

3A girls: No. 1 Lower Richland begins another title hunt

Top-ranked Lower Richland hosts Eastside Monday in the first round of the Class 3A state girls basketball playoffs.

It will be a busy night for area teams with seven local squads seeing action. Dreher, Chapin and Airport are the other local teams with first-round home games. The Region 5-3A champion Blue Devils (15-6) host North Charleston, Greenville visits Chapin (18-6) and Airport (12-11) welcomes Lake Marion. Otherwise, A.C. Flora (14-9) is at Travelers Rest, Brookland-Cayce (8-13) travels to Hilton Head and Swansea (10-12) hits the road to face Region 8-3A champion Battery Creek.

Lower Richland (21-1) is working on a number of significant winning streaks. The Diamond Hornets have won 14 in a row since their 51-game roll came to an end at a blue-chip tournament in Myrtle Beach in December. Moreover, Debbie Stroman’s club is working on streak of 15 straight playoff wins and eyeing its fourth straight state championship.

The Diamond Hornets, led by All-America senior forward Morgan Stroman, point guard Dayshaun Richbow, Stephanie Hayes, Jasmine Harrison and Ashley Edmond, are looking to add their first 3A title to their collection of three straight 4A championships. LR is 38-21 in state playoff matters in the modern era, but is 33-9 and won five state titles since Stroman guided the Diamond Hornets to the Promised Land for the first time in 1994.

On balance, Dreher’s state playoff report card is nearly as good. The Blue Devils have a better overall record in the postseason (42-14), but the Diamond Hornets have the edge in state titles. LR has never faltered in a championship game, while Dreher is 4-2 in ultimate games. Tequila McKneal is the Blue Devils’ driving force, but has plenty of help from the likes of Emily Newton and Shakeina Smith.

North Charleston has a pretty good playoff resume, as well. The Cougars, in rebuilding mode this season, are 37-28 in the playoffs and 2-3 in state title games. NC played in backp-to-back 3A championship games against J.L. Mann in 2006 and 2007 and reach the Lower State finals a year ago.

Jessica Ellison led Airport to a second-place finish behind Dreher in Region 5-3A, but the state playoffs have always been a dicey proposition for the Eagles. Airport is 1-10 all-time in postseason games with its only win coming against Lexington in 1994 at the 4A level. The Eagles have lost four straight 3A first-round games since ending an 11-season qualifying drought in 2005.

A.C. Flora’s trip to Greenville County to face the high-scoring Devildogs (18-5) is perhaps the most intriguing of the entire first round. The Falcons are a different team now that senior Tiara Knotts is back in the lineup, and been proven playoff performers in recent seasons. The Falcons are 16-15 all-time in the playoffs, but are 9-4 over the past four season and have never failed to advanace at least to the third round.

Knotts is averaging 10.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 3.3 steals since coming off the DL. Kim Roach leads ACF with a 15.9 scoring average and Jasmine Stubbs is at 11.3 ppg.

Travelers Rest should have plenty of motivation. The Devildogs were expelled in the second round last season by ACF. TR won the first 3A state title in the modern era in 1971, but have never made it past the second round since then. After getting off to a 2-3 this season, the Devilsdogs have lost only to J.L. Mann in Region 2-3A play. Kayla Jenerette, Rebecca Clanton and Alexia Smith provide most of the TR firepower. Jenerette is averaging 21.4 points and is shooting 63% from the field. Clanton is averaging 13.3 points, 3.1 assists and 3.4 steals. Smith is averaging 12.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.3 steals.

Chapin has had a tough time in the playoffs, as its 9-18 postseason record indicates. The Eagles are 6-17 since beating Rains-Centenary (now Creek Bridge) and Hall of Fame coach Taft Watson 50-33 for the 2A championship in 1973. Veterans Ashlee Wilson, Layla Neal, Amy Lepper and Alexa Conners hope to have a much longer stay this time around.

Brookland-Cayce is 1-5 in state playoff games, and hopes to have a better showing in the wake of a 101-53 first-round loss last season to North Charleston. Swansea, on the other hand, is 24-19 in the playoffs, 1-1 in state title games. The Tigers last appearance in the state finals was in 1995 when they topped Carolina 49-42 for the 2A championship. Recently, Swansea has a good three-season run (2004-06) when they reached the Upper State finals two times.