SENECA — Coming off the bench may be a role Rikayla Johnson is used to by this point in the year, but her performance on Thursday night could hardly be defined as standard.
With some foul trouble pushing her into action early in the night, Johnson came on to lead the charge for the Seneca High School girls’ basketball, as she paced the Bobcats with 17 points and 12 rebounds in their 62-41 victory over Chapin in the second round of the Class AAA state playoffs.
With the win, the Bobcats (23-0) will now advance to the third round of the postseason for the third time in as many years, as they will play host Riverside on Monday night at 7 p.m.
And plenty of credit for advancing that far is due to Johnson, who Bobcats head coach Amanda Holder said elevated her game when the Bobcats needed it the most against Chapin.
“She turned it on on the right night, in the right game at the right time,” Holder said.
Seneca looked ready to thrive inside early with Rachel Cunningham getting out to a quick start by scoring two baskets to help set up an early 8-2 lead over the visiting Eagles.
But Cunningham, who went on to finish the night with 11 points and nine rebounds, left the game with two fouls at the 3:27 mark in the first quarter, forcing Johnson off the bench.
Donning a facemask due to an injury earlier in the season against West-Oak, Johnson came up with a big second quarter, scoring six points in helping Seneca build a 30-18 halftime advantage.
Those points came within a span of four Seneca possessions midway through the quarter, as Johnson said she knew had to step up with another shot at advancing to the third round on the line.
“I just realized we can actually go all the way, so therefore I’m trying to give it my all,” Johnson said.
Cunningham came out to start the second half for the Bobcats, but picked up her third foul early in the third quarter, putting Johnson right back into action.
The Bobcats then seemed to be ready to put it on cruise control, as senior Icey Patterson, recently named to the All-State team for the third time in as many years, hit a free throw to put the Bobcats ahead 35-19.
But Chapin (19-7) came back with a 6-0 run, capped by a layup from Savannah Frick to close the gap to just 10 points with two and half minutes left in the third.
Following a timeout, the Bobcats responded with a 10-4 run to end the quarter, which included a pair of scores from Johnson.
She was then joined in the post by Cunningham for much of the fourth quarter, giving the Bobcats a nearly unstoppable force inside to help increase their lead to more than 20 points.
With the win behind them now, the Bobcats will take the weekend to prepare for a Riverside team that hung on for a 37-36 victory over A.C. Flora on Thursday night to advance to the third round.
The Bobcats downed Riverside by 10 points during second-round playoff action two seasons ago and will be looking to get past the third round after failing to do so each of the last two years.
Those shortcomings have been a hot topic of conversation amongst the Seneca squad, but Johnson said the Bobcats feel good going into Monday’s game after picking up their closest victory since a 14-point win over Pickens on Jan. 27.
“Usually we have a little curse to where we can’t make it past the third round, and we want to break that this year,” Johnson said. “We know there is more competition to come out there, and we know it’s not just going to be handed to us.”
And with a trip to the Upper State championship game in Greenville on the line Monday, Holder said she’s expecting the Bobcats to come out hungry after missing out on that chance the last two seasons.
“They (Riverside) know that we’re not going to let them be our roadblock to getting to where want to go,” Holder said. “We want to play that game in the Bi-Lo Center.”
Chapin (41) — Neal 15, Wilson 10, Coker 5, Frick 4, Lepper 3, Conners 2. Seneca (62) — Johnson 17, Patterson 12, Cunningham 11, Holland 11, Dendy 7, Haymond 2, Holliday 2