The first round of the South Carolina High School League playoffs is complete and several Aiken-area basketball teams have advanced. Of 15 combined local boys’ and girls’ basketball teams that qualified for the playoffs, eight won their postseason debuts.
Three wins came on the road, which is a good sign for those teams. That’s because they’ll continue to play away from their home courts in the second round, when the challenge of advancing gets even tougher. And there’s no time to rest, with four games scheduled for tonight and three more Saturday.
That doesn’t include the Ridge Spring-Monetta girls, the Region 4-A champions who beat Great Falls before falling to Brashier Middle College Thursday.
Here’s a look at the other area teams that won and their next game in the postseason.
No. 1 North Augusta vs. No. 2 West Ashley
Saturday, 7 p.m.
Getting a first-round win wasn’t easy, but not much has been this season for the Yellow Jackets (18-6). Playing on their home court, the Jackets trailed Richland Northeast by 16 points entering the fourth quarter of their playoff game. TJ Sheppard led a furious comeback, scoring a team-best 20 points, as North Augusta staved off elimination and rallied for a 67-65 victory.
It will get to play at home again on Saturday, when it plays host to a West Ashley (20-4) squad that dispatched Fort Dorchester, 53-42. It will be difficult for the Yellow Jackets to overcome a slow start against this opponent, but they’ve shown all season the ability to prevail after putting itself in a precarious position. That’s due in large part to an athletic and opportunistic roster that includes emerging stars such as Malik Dunbar, Christian Davis as well as versatile big man Tavarez Hall.
No. 3 Aiken at No. 1 Goose Creek
Saturday, 7 p.m.
Playing without two suspended regulars, including leading scorer Shawn Moore, the Aiken High boys (17-8) overcame an eight-point deficit with less than three minutes to play in a one-point win at Conway. With the game on the line, Ryan McKie made a hard drive to the basket and was fouled as he made a game-tying shot. McKie, who led the Hornets with 19 points, sank the free throw to provide the winning margin.
Aiken is again expected to be without Moore and Stacy Toole when it plays at Goose Creek on Saturday. Both were suspended in the fallout of a fight in the regular-season finale. The Hornets did get big man Dramel Coleman back from a hand injury for the Conway game, and he scored 12 points.
“The guys were resilient and never gave up,” Hornets coach Tony Harrell said of his team, which will need another huge effort to knock off Goose Creek (19-4). “We got great contributions off the bench, and it was a total team effort. I’m proud of the guys.”
No. 1 Strom Thurmond vs. No. 2 Darlington
Today, 7 p.m.
Much like Aiken, Strom Thurmond went into its playoff opener without one of its top players. Big man Daquarius Johnson was sidelined with an ankle injury suffered in the Rebels’ (19-7) regular-season finale. And just like Aiken, Strom Thurmond got production from other players in a 55-37 win over Hanahan.
Baylor Jones had what Rebels head coach Bo Rouse called “the best game he’s ever seen him play,” scoring 20 points. Jasergio Kennion scored 13 points while teammates Deontrez Mealing and Aaron Cook combined for 14 more for Strom Thurmond, which will play host to Darlington tonight. Darlington (17-6) advanced with an 85-71 win over Wilson.
The Rebels could get a shot in the arm, or ankle, for tonight’s game. That’s because Johnson will try to return to action.
“It wasn’t as bad as they thought,” Rouse said of Johnson’s injury. “It makes us a better team with him in the game.”
No. 3 Silver Bluff at No. 1 Calhoun County
Saturday, 7 p.m.
The Silver Bluff boys (12-10) played one of their best games of the season in its playoff opener, going on the road where it beat Battery Creek 73-63.
“That was one of our best games down the stretch,” Silver Bluff head coach Robbie McKenzie said. “We controlled the tempo and took smart shots, high-percentage looks and open looks. We did not turn it over against great pressure.”
Silver Bluff was led by Jaylen Lawrence, who had a huge 31-point performance.
He was part of an accurate attack on offense that resulted in one of the Bulldogs’ best shooting nights this season. They combined to hit nine 3-pointers. Donte Wright contributed 14 points and eight assists for the Bulldogs, who will travel to Calhoun County on Saturday. McKenzie said that’s the matchup his players wanted.
Silver Bluff lost the Region 5-AA title to Calhoun County this season, in spite of splitting the season series, 1-1. The Bulldogs are undaunted about playing outside of Petticoat Junction and beat the Saints in St. Matthews 78-66 on Jan. 15.
No. 1 Fox Creek vs. No. 2 McCormick
Today, 7 p.m.
Like their neighbors North Augusta, the Predators painted themselves into a corner in their first-round game against McBee. They trailed by 10 before scoring a point and had to overcome injuries to a number of players before rallying for the 59-56 victory.
DJ Curry, Brandyn Quiller and Marques Sumner all scored in double digits for Fox Creek (19-6), which will get another try at a home game tonight, although the venue is changing. The Predators’ game will be at North Augusta Middle School, where they’ll play McCormick (13-11), a 58-52 winner over Southside Christian.
No. 2 Aiken at No. 1 Summerville
Today, 7 p.m.
The Aiken girls seem to be finding their groove on offense at the right time of the year. The Hornets (17-7) are coming off a 59-41 win over Blythewood in the first round and have established capable scoring threats in Erin Gilmore, Alexis Odom, Monique Tyler and Rebekah Muir with Jhay Graham emerging as well.
They’ll need continued production in half-court sets as well as the transition baskets scored off the turnovers their tremendous pressure defense creates to notch another postseason win. That’s because the Hornets will travel to Summerville (20-5) for a game against a team coming off a 69-59 win over West Florence.
Aiken coach Aubrey Pompey said his team’s chances of winning will depend on what they do.
“It’s us. When we play good, we can play with anyone.”
No. 3 North Augusta at No. 1 West Ashley
Today, 7 p.m.
Sparked by a strong defensive effort, the North Augusta girls overcame a 4-hour ride across the state, a higher-seeded opponent and memories of last year’s first-round playoff loss. The Yellow Jackets faced all of those challenges and still beat Carolina Forest, 63-48.
Jasmine Coach led the Jackets with 22 points, and Mallory Stone added 20 for the Yellow Jackets, who face another long ride to play West Ashley (22-1). The Wildcats are coming off a 70-31 win over Fort Dorchester and haven’t lost a game in 2013. It will be a huge challenge for North Augusta, but first-year head coach Crystal Cummings said her team is pumped up after the first-round win.
“It’s a good confidence booster for the girls. Everyone’s excited.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.