SUMTER — They came, they saw, they conquered.
The Richard Winn girls’ (29-1) basketball team won their second consecutive state title in three straight appearances Saturday when they defeated Thomas Sumter Academy (20-10) in overtime 37-33.
The Lady Eagles fought through a combined 17 leads changes or ties, as well as a last second three-pointer by Thomas Sumter to send the game into overtime.
Playing at the Sumter Civic Center, the Lady Generals might have had the hometown advantage, but they didn’t have Richard Winn’s championship experience.
Richard Winn head coach Jason Haltiwanger said his team’s championship mentality was built during the off-season.
“It takes a special group (to repeat as state champions) with a lot of dedication and hard work,” he stated after the game. “While other student-athletes are at the beach during the summer, our girls are in the weight room and working on their basketball skills. It started a long time ago and these girls have put in a lot of hard work.”
The two teams played nearly four months ago, when Richard Winn breezed past Thomas Sumter 53-12 on Dec. 3, but Saturday’s contest would be much closer and with much more at stake than just a regular season victory.
Carson Justice spotted Richard Winn the early lead by netting the first five points of the game.
It took Thomas Sumter four and half minutes to put their first points up, but still managed to keep the score close at 7-6 by the end of the first quarter.
The Lady Generals would take their first lead of the game with three straight free throws to start the second quarter.
After missing their first seven shots of the quarter, Richard Winn would finally break the run with a Jaycie Johnson bucket at the four-minute mark.
Anna Cooke then buried a three-pointer to put the Lady Eagles back on top and fuel a 16-14 advantage by halftime.
Thomas Sumter’s Julia Law netted the first basket of the third quarter to pull the teams back even 16-16.
The lead would see-saw back and forth throughout the third quarter, but Johnson and Jessie Stidham combined for back-to-back buckets to establish a 27-24 lead for Richard Winn heading into the fourth quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Justice and Bailey Taylor put together two straight scores to give the Lady Eagles their largest lead of the game at 31-24.
The seven point advantage forced Thomas Sumter’s head coach B.J. Reed to call a timeout.
Reed’s coaching flare was enough to motivate her players into an 8-1 run over the final three minutes of regulation to tie the game 32-32 and force overtime.
Taylor Knudson scored all eight of the Lady Generals points in the final quarter, including the shot from beyond the arc with less than four seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.
In the final minutes, there was some controversy at the scorer’s table because the clock did not start on time. The miscue ended up giving Thomas Sumter nearly seven seconds and cost Richard Winn what could have been a win in regulation.
After the game Haltiwanger said he was unaware of the miscue, but was proud his Lady Eagles were able to still execute during the adversity.
“There are multiple things in the game that we can’t control that affected us,” he noted. “Our girls had to adapt and adjust, but they gutted it out and that’s all that matters. There were some questionable things that happened but a champion doesn’t complain, they keep playing and that’s what our girls did. “
In the overtime period, Thomas Sumter was limited to just one point and missed all five of their shot attempts.
Richard Winn scored all five of their overtime points from the free throw line, which would be enough to earn a 37-33 victory and a second straight SCISA AA trophy.
Thomas Sumter took a slight lead when Sydney Long hit one out of two free throws to start the overtime period, but Richard Winn’s Justice and Emily Brigman would score the final five point from the foul-line to put the game on ice.
Overall, both teams struggled from the charity stripe by shooting less than 50-percent. Thomas Sumter made 12 of 27 and Richard Winn knocked down 10 of 24.
Haltiwanger noted that it was not easy watching all the missed free throws by his squad, but acknowledged the Lady Eagles ability to still overcome their missed opportunities.
“Its tough in pressure situations (to make a free throw),” he said. “Yes it is frustrating, but I only encourage the controllable results.”
Thomas Sumter was forced into 20 turnovers and Richard Winn committed only 8 through 36 minutes of play.
The Lady Generals’ defense held Richard Winn to just 37 points, after averaging nearly 56 points per game coming in.
“She (Reed) had a great game plan and it was very effective,” Haltiwanger said. “I give all the credit in the world to B.J. Reed because she had a great game plan defensively. It looked man and it looked like zone.”
Justice and Cooke played their final game in a Lady Eagle jersey. Justice finished with a team-high 15 points.
Haltiwanger believes Justice is a one-of-a-kind type player, who helped the Lady Eagles soar to two straight state title wins.
“(She helped us win) Not just by her play but through her career experience,” he stated. “She is a great player. It is going to be very hard to replace her. She has a great offensive game and good size.”
Justice will continue her basketball career next year across the county line at Newberry College.
RWA: Justice-15, Johnson-8, Taylor-5, Stidham-4, Cooke-3, Brigman-2.
TSA: Knudson-17, Law-8, Long-2, Jenkins-2, Morris-2, Nevels-2.