COLUMBIA — The Chinese Zodiac calendar recognizes the year 2018 as the “year of the dog.” The Newberry High School Lady Bulldogs certainly lived up to that billing as their 57-50 victory over Ridgeland-Hardeeville Saturday afternoon at the Colonial Life Arena, in Columbia, gave the team their first state championship since they first fielded a team about 90 years ago.
Going into the game under the belief that their teammate Rayanna Davis would have to enjoy another game from her hospital room, due to her car accident two weeks ago, it was a surprise to the entire team when they turned around after being checked in and saw Davis there in person. Davis stayed with the team until they cut down the nets back in the Scott Gym that evening.
Head Coach Melissa Mendenhall said that while the team was going to play hard no matter what, they were also going to dedicate the championship game to Davis.
“They were probably going to Facetime her before we came in and before we went out, but just to have her here was better than any Facetime,” she said.
With a high-pressure defense on both sides of the court, the score went from a five-all tie to the Lady Jaguars having a lead up to the 4:23 mark of the first quarter.
Newberry ended the quarter on an eight-point run after this as the Lady Bulldogs led 17-11 at the end of the first quarter. Newberry would lead the entire final 24 minutes of the game.
Like at the upper-state championship with Seneca, the Lady Jaguars also found themselves in early foul trouble, as several of Ridgeland-Hardeeville’s starting five players were already plagued with at least three fouls midway through the second quarter.
Another foul sent a Lady Jaguar starter to the bench, with three minutes to go in the half. A technical foul would be called on her replacement after she slammed the ball down hard enough, causing it to bounce over her head.
Newberry converted 11-of-16 second quarter free-throws as they would go into the locker rooms ahead 34-18.
For the half, Ridgeland-Hardeeville hit nine of their 39 field shots, while Newberry was eight-for 26.
Newberry only got three field shots in the third quarter, but they would still have the 42-28 advantage heading into the final stanza.
The Lady Jaguars went on a nine-to-three run in the next 2:30 to cut their deficit to just five points, 50-45.
Only coming off the court for mere seconds the entire game, Rayanna Davis’ sister, Diamond, hit a short jumper, and after a throw out of bounds by Ridgeland-Hardeeville converted both of her free-throws as Newberry suddenly had a nine-point lead with 57 seconds left.
The Lady Bulldogs dribbled out the last 30 seconds of the game, as they won their state title.
Newberry went 17-of-48 in field shots for the evening, including not making a single three-pointer.
The Lady Jaguars, meanwhile, went 21-of-79 in field shots as they only made two of their 19 three-pointer attempts.
Diamond Davis had a game-high 18 points, including going six-of-eight in free throws, as well as nabbing six rebounds.
Kelsey Felks ended the evening with 13 points and 23 rebounds including grabbing 17 of them defensively.
Zacharia Epps scored 12 points, as well as having six steals.
Lindsey Ruff contributed nine points, while Reghan Miller scored five first-half points.
While Newberry committed 14 fouls Ridgeland-Hardeeville was charged 22 times, which sent the Lady Bulldogs to the free-throw line 32 times.
The Lady Bulldogs converted 23 opportunities from there, while the Lady Panthers missed six of their 16 attempts.
Newberry concludes their season with an overall record of 25-4, including going 11-1 at home this year. The Lady Bulldogs lost only one of their 17 games they played since Jan. 1 of this year.
The only time Newberry trailed at the end of any of their 20 playoff quarters was an 11-10 first quarter deficit to Pendleton in the quarterfinals.
The Lady Bulldogs are coached by Mendenhall and was assisted by Tonya Deese-Jeter and John Lesaine. The following student-athletes made up the team: Shandrick Davis, Diamond Davis, Reghan Miller, Lindsey Ruff, Zacharia Epps, Tashari Hayward, Titianna Garrison, Trabia McFall, Rayanna Davis, Kelsey Felks, Jahliah Coleman-Eigner, C’Xauris Corley, Kelsey Havird, Morgan Moon and Somaria Ellis.
Miller, Ruff, Rayanna Davis, Felks, Havird and Moon were all seniors this year.
Mendenhall said that the win didn’t come easy for the team.
“They went out there, played their game and did what we asked them to do. We worked hard this week in practice and they listened and followed every direction,” she said.
Mendenhall added that she was at a loss for words as the team continued to soak in the victory.
“This is what we have prepared for all year,” she said.
With the Lady Bulldogs 2017-18 season now complete, Mendenhall already has her sights set on returning to the state championship.
“I hope to get back here every year,” Mendenhall said.
Reach Kelly Duncan at 803-768-3123 ext. 1868 or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.