SCHSL CLASS 3A BASKETBALL STATE CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES
Saturday at Colonial Life Arena
Girls — Ridgeland-Hardeeville (18-3) vs. Newberry (25-4), 2 p.m.
Boys — Ridgeland-Hardeeville (23-1) vs. Southside (22-2), 3:30 p.m.
It already has been a historic season for the Ridgeland-Hardeeville basketball programs, and it could become even more special Saturday afternoon.
Both Jaguar teams will play for Class 3A state titles Saturday at Colonial Life Arena, with the girls facing Newberry at 2 p.m. and the boys following against Southside at 3:30.
“The culture at Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School has always been about teamwork,” boys coach and athletics director Jeremiah Faber said at Monday’s press conference in Columbia. “To have our boys and girls programs both in the finals, it says a lot about our school and about the work ethic that our kids have.”
It’s the first time in program history that both teams advanced to the state championship game in the same season, and both RHHS coaches say their teams feed off one another’s success.
“When we watch our girls play, it just gives me an opportunity to add to my pre-game speech,” Faber said. “Our girls play so hard, and I often tell my players we don’t want to come up short. We use our girls as our motivation to get us going.”
Batting leadoff for the boys also motivates the Jaguar girls, who are seeking their second state title after winning the Class 1A crown in 2011.
“It kind of energizes us and we hope we can set the tone for the boys who follow us,” coach Fred Toomer said.
Both teams try to set the tone on the court by forcing opponents into an up-tempo game that favors Ridgeland-Hardeeville’s guard-oriented lineups and penchant for pressure defense.
Faber’s boys team often has five guards on the floor and lives off forcing turnovers that turn into layups. Brothers Rashamel Butler (18.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.6 apg, 2.5 spg) and Devin Butler (11.7 ppg) are the team’s offensive leaders, but senior Diamonte Robinson is their defensive stopper, averaging three steals per game while locking down the opponent’s best offensive player.
“We’re very aggressive on the floor,” Faber said. “We just enjoy playing basketball. We enjoy getting after our opponents.”
The Jaguars certainly will have to get after it Saturday to give Faber his first state title in 33 years coaching in Jasper County, as they face defending state champion Southside, which has won 14 straight games and boasts two dominant big men in 6-8 R.J. Campbell and 6-10 Jamal Burke.
The Jaguar girls also face a team that is returning to the state title game, as Newberry lost to Bishop England on a buzzer-beater in last year’s final. The Bulldogs will be without one of their top players in senior point guard Rayanna Davis, who was injured in a car accident Feb. 19 and remained in the hospital through last weekend.
Newberry still has three double-digit scorers, including post player Kelsey Felks (16.0 ppg), but Davis’ absence gives the Jaguars an edge in the backcourt, where Ridgeland-Hardeeville has all-state point guard Quanajia Drayton and fellow seniors Timothea Green and Jamee Mack.
Whatever happens Saturday, the Jaguars plan to continue living by the motto that has carried them all season – Trust the Process.
“Our kids buy into what we’re trying to do,” Faber said. “We just believe that this year is our year.”