Aiken, S.C. (WIS) - Sumter girls basketball suffers heartbreak in a last-second defeat in the 5A state championship game on Saturday.
Clover rallied from a double-digit third-quarter deficit to claim the title, 40-38, inside the USC Aiken Convocation Center.
“I’m extremely proud of these kids,” said Gamecocks head coach Jeff Schaffer. “They are a resilient bunch.”
Both programs had to wait an additional two weeks to play in the championship. The game, initially scheduled for March 5th, was postponed until March 20th due to COVID-19 protocols.
“It was great being around them,” added Schaffer. I was kidding with them last week... you get to put up with me for two more weeks. They are a joy to be around. They are great kids. They work hard.”
Sumter handled the break ahead of the title game tremendously well. It showed in how they started the championship.
The Gamecocks sprinted out to a 10-1 lead less than four minutes into the game. Freshman guard Kiara Croskey made big-time plays to carry Sumter to an eight-point lead at the break.
Freshman Gamecock guard Keziyah Sanders connected on a triple from the corner in the third quarter to give them a 12-point advantage.
With 2:20 to go in the frame at that point, Sumter was in an excellent position to claim its first state title since 1984.
The Eagles’ resolve was on display the rest of the game.
Aylesha Wade, the 5A co-player of the year in South Carolina, made clutch buckets down the stretch. Wade hit a three at the 3:08 mark to pull Clover within two points, 33-31.
Less than a minute later, off a Sumter turnover, Janelle Carter tied it up on a sensational shot while falling to the ground. Carter was fouled on the play. She connected on the free throw to give Clover its first lead of the game, 34-33.
The game was tied at 38-38 with under 40 seconds to play. Sumter put the ball in Croskey’s hands. She found a lane to drive and took her chances with more than 30 seconds left on the clock.
“Kiara has been our point guard the past two years,” said Schaffer. “I have faith in her. I know her desire to play and win.”
Croskey’s shot rolled off the iron and right to Clover. Wade wound up with the ball with 27 seconds on the clock. She did not hesitate to fly up the floor. Wade stopped on a dime roughly eight feet out, and her jumper bounced three times off the rim and dropped. The Eagles were in front 40-38.
Sumter’s chance to tie it in the final moments fell short, securing Clover’s comeback and victory.
“I feel bad for them right now,” said Schaffer about his Sumter squad. “In the same token, I am super proud of the way they got through this season. This crazy season we all have been through. I don’t think anybody expected us to be here, to be quite honest with you except us.”