The Airport girls basketball season was on the brink of ending with less than two minutes to go in the first-round match-up with Hartsville in the Class 4A playoffs Tuesday night.
The Eagles trailed and were having a hard time knocking down shots. But a 3-pointer from Jolisa Cullum sparked an 11-0 closing run to give Airport a 52-43 victory, its first playoff victory win since at least 2009.
“It feels great for the girls,” Airport coach Jacob Thompson said. “It’s been a while since we’ve won in the playoffs and they just seem to find ways to win. We stayed with the plan, which was to attack.”
Airport (18-8) will host A.C. Flora, a 53-51 upset winner over North Myrtle Beach, Friday night.
Cullum sparked the run with the Eagles’ only 3-point basket of the contest with 1:26 remaining. Cullum got free in the corner and knocked down the shot that gave them a 44-43 lead. Amea Ziegler scored off back-to-back steals before Jayla Jamison closed things out with the final four points.
That was the offensive spark, but it was the defensive intensity that finally turned the game in favor of the home team. Jamison, a ninth-grader who finished with a game-high 21 points, disrupted and harassed the Red Foxes into 37 turnovers. She had three steals in the final minute.
“I know we didn’t hit many jump shots, but we never quit,” Thompson said. “That was a huge three for us. We got on that run because we stayed mentally tough. We preach getting stops and we went out and closed it that way.”
The Eagles, who played without two normal starters due to injury, forced 10 of the turnovers in the fourth quarter. Jamison, who had four fouls, was able to get into passing lanes and force Hartsville into errant passes.
“I concentrated and focused on the waist down,” Jamison said. “If you can follow them from the waist down, you can anticipate what they’re going to do. I attacked when I saw the opportunity. We stayed with our game plan and it paid off.”
Airport trailed by as many as seven in the second half. They got into the bonus early in the fourth quarter and made 11-of-14 from the free throw line. That as much as anything enabled them to outscore Hartsville 28-11 in the final quarter.
“We tried to take away their shooters in the early going,” Thompson said. “We sort of sat back in the first half and in the third quarter but that took away from who we are. We decided we were going to win or lose with what we do best. We went into that pressure and it turned out for the best. Plus, we got to the free throw line and made them when it counted.”
H – T.T. Dawson 11, McPhail 8, K. Dawson 7, Thomas 6, Pendergrass 5, Sutton 4, Robinson 2. A – Jayla Jamison 21, Myia Jackson 12, Zeigler 8, Cullum 5, C. Corbitt 4, T. Corbitt 2.