WINNSBORO — The Richard Winn Lady Eagles swept through the Region AA tournament to win the championship on Tuesday night in Union. The Eagles finished the season undefeated in Region 3 play.
Thanks to a stellar second half defensive performance, the Lady Eagles put the game away for a 34-17 win. They led 17-15 at the half thanks to a scrappy performance from Spartanburg Christian. Points were at a premium in the first half as both teams played aggressive defense.
It was great team defense according to head coach Jason Haltiwanger who saw his club give up an astoundingly low two points in the second half. The Lady Eagles kept Spartanburg Christian from scoring for the final fifteen minutes of play.
The game was a bit of a grind offensively, but the Eagles had enough scoring weapons to carry the day.
For the game, junior guard Carson Justice led RWA in scoring with 19 points.
Haltiwanger said they did not make many halftime adjustments on defense other than what they normally run, but that they did change things up on offense. Realizing the 5’10” Justice could post up the opposing point guard, they set up some isolation plays in the low post for her. On four straight possessions, Justice received the ball and on four straight possessions she scored, including one three-point-play.
For their hustle and effort, Jaycie Johnson, Anna Cooke, Jessie Stidham and Carson Justice were chosen for the all tournament team. The Lady Eagles added more hardware to their trophy case, though, as Justice was named the Region 3 Player of the Year and Head Coach Jason Haltiwanger was named the Coach of the Year for Region 3 SCISA AA.
Next up for Richard Winn is a game against King’s Academy out of Florence.
He said King’s has a tall, scrappy point guard one solid outside shooter. Look for King’s to play a lot of 2-3 zone, which could open up opportunities for a guard like Justice, particularly if post players Jaycie Johnson and Jessie Stidham get involved in the scoring early.
Haltiwanger said his team is pretty healthy now, with Anna Cooke returning to action on Tuesday.
Cooke had been out with a tender ankle that the team rested as a precaution.
Other than colds and seasonal sickness going around, there has been little to slow this group. He feels their depth will be helpful as they move into the playoff.
This is a younger team than a year ago when they made it to the state championship game. “It’s a bit of an eerie feeling going in, to be honest with you,” he said.
He knows this bunch has good leadership in Captain Carson Justice and Junior Anna Cooke, but he also understands that with that many young players on the team keeping them focused on themselves and their efforts rather than distractions will be a key to this season’s playoff run.
Justice is confident in her teammates. “This game takes a lot of focus and I’ve learned that,” she said by having started at point guard since the eighth grade. “When I was chosen for the position of team leader, I realized that when I’m flowing right, (my teammates) are flowing right.”
With a 6:2 assist to turnover ratio since their home victory against Mid-Carolina High, Coach Haltiwanger said Carson has been on a tear, but he is quick to credit the other players who are contributing in ways that include scoring but in all roles on the team. For him, a freshman taking her first charge of the season is just as important and exciting as a student-athlete making a game winning basket.That is one reason his team averages 14 steals and 10 assists per game, as well as 26.7 rebounds per game. Each player finds their space on the court and fills that role so that the entire team can succeed. That character allowed this group to rally together and reload after All Conference center Alex Maas graduated a year ago.
That enthusiasm for coaching and for the process of playing basketball, win or lose, should serve the Eagles well as playoff time approaches.