NEWBERRY — After winning the AA Upper State Championship at Greenville’s Bi-Lo Center last year, the Newberry High basketball team got a quiet police escort from the interstate down Wilson Road to the front doors of the gym and were welcomed back that night by one person.
After capturing their second straight upper state championship with a 76-60 victory over Keenan on the same court Saturday, members of the Bulldog nation wanted to assure the team it would not happen again this year.
While the team was dining in Greenville, Facebook messages, tweets and texts were being passed among parents, students and fans so when the team got their police escort through town that evening, it was to be more enjoyable and memorable for the ones on the bus and to the ones who witnessed it.
Fans began cheering at College Street, as did people in restaurants, parking lots and gas stations along the route. People were waving and honking to welcome them back to Newberry High where they celebrated with the fans and their families.
Then they knew it was time to put aside their Upper State Championship memories and get ready for the final game of the 2012-13 season this Saturday at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia against Lake Marion High School, the Lower State Champions.
At the Bi-Lo Center, several thousand Bulldog fans had settled into almost every facet of the arena by the time the Bulldogs took to the court for warm-ups shortly after 3:30 p.m. A win would be their 15th straight win.
The Raiders had eliminated the Bulldogs from the second round of the 2011 playoffs and from the quarterfinals of the 2010 playoffs. Newberry was hoping the third time would be the charm.
After a trade of missed shots to start the game, Newberry would score the first points at the 7:06 mark when Trey Miller hit a short jumper for a 2-0 score.
Raider Charles Smith scored eight of his team’s 14 points in the opening eight minutes as Keenan led by two at the buzzer.
The Raiders led by as many as seven points during this time frame. Only three other times this season has Newberry trailed after the opening quarter, the first in 17 games.
After being held to a combined one point, all-state players Kaheem Praylow and Jalin Alexander started showing Keenan that to get to next week’s championship game in Columbia, they would have to go through Newberry.
After a jump ball showed possession to Newberry, Praylow’s jumper put Newberry ahead for the duration of the night at 16-14 with 6:45 left in the half.
Fifty-seven seconds later, it had grown from a four-point Newberry run to seven.
Newberry’s 25-9 run after that jump ball sent the home team into the locker room leading 37-23. Praylow and Alexander had scored seven points apiece in the second quarter. This was the most combined second quarter points between the two seniors this season.
Keenan came out of the second half on full steam as the Raiders’ 9-0 run in two minutes cut the Newberry lead to a mere five points.
The Bulldogs though went on a 23-13 run to end the quarter as Newberry led 60-45 with eight minutes left in this semi-final championship game.
With 4:15 left in the game, Praylow’s dunk to take the score to 70-54 seemed to shake not only the basketball goal itself, but the court and the stands. It marked the 28th straight game that Newberry has scored at least 67 points.
Praylow scored 18 points in the final three quarters to lead the Newberry scoring. Jaylen Lindsay scored 17 points while Trey Miller finished with 14. Junior Notorious Booker also scored in each quarter and finished with 13 points.
Alexander contributed nine points while Bennett Wilson and Jaylen Reeder scored two points apiece. Tovaris Cureton’s lone free-throw ended the Newberry scoring.
The Bulldogs won the bench scoring 33-5.
Newberry High will take their 26-2 record onto the Colonial Life Arena court around 4 p.m. in an attempt to claim their first ever state championship in basketball.
Fairfield Central claimed the 1997-98 AAA state title over the Bulldogs while North Charleston grabbed the AA crown last year over Newberry.