By MIKE McCOMBS
SUMTER – When Davidson Day routed Hilton Head Prep at home, 66-40, back in November, dropping the Dolphins to 1-2 on the season, it would have been easy for observers to write the season off.
But the team did no such thing.
Hilton Head Prep instead reeled off 25 straight victories, including a 57-43 win over Shannon Forrest on Saturday at Sumter Civic Center, to win the SCISA 2A boys basketball state championship.
“We made a promise to ourselves we’d go all the way to state and win,” senior forward Avern Montaque said. “And we did.”
Montaque played a big part in that, leading the Dolphins (26-2) with 15 points and four blocked shots.
Hilton Head Prep head coach Jerry Faulkner smiled when asked if Montaque was the best athlete on the floor.
“He’s also a great student and a wonderful guy,” Faulkner said.
The previously unbeaten Crusaders (28-1) used a 1-3-1 trap defense to slow down the Dolphins, but eventually Prep was able to pull away.
“I’ve got some intelligent players, and they’ve seen it all,” Faulkner said. “When they’ve played 25 games against the people we’ve played, we’ve seen it all.
“We hadn’t played against that kind of defense all year, so yesterday, we had to work on it. Not physically, but mentally.”
Montaque said the Dolphins were ready for what they saw.
“We worked on it (Friday),” he said. “We knew we had to get the ball into the middle of the court. They set for a lot of charges throughout the game, too, so we were ready for that.”
Haddith Stewart (11 points) and Tyrone Calloway (9 points) excelled at moving the ball around the perimeter quickly and were able to get the ball up the court in the face of Shannon Forrest’s pressure.
But the key may have been Stone McDonald.
The junior forward, who scored 10 points, was typically the man who went to the middle of the court to take the pass and break the Crusaders’ pressure. Often, McDonald would go airborne to receive a pass, only to have passed the ball away before coming back down to the floor.
“Stone McDonald is the straw that stirs the drink,” Faulkner said. “Tyrone (Calloway) is the engine, but Stone is the man in the middle. He makes the decisions.”
Faulkner said winning 25 games in a row was easy.
“It’s not hard if you take one at time,” the 74-year-old Faulkner said, drawing laughs. “I know it’s cliché. But ask my kids, ‘What’s the most important practice?’ and they’ll say ‘Today.’ ‘What’s the most important game?’ ‘The next game.’ ”
Jack Braun scored eight for the Dolphins, and Felipe Mendoza and Hunter Hopman each added two. David Muncy led the Crusaders with a game-high 22 points.
The state championship is the fifth for Hilton Head Prep, with the last coming in 1991.
This was the eighth state championship for Faulkner, his first in his seventh year at Prep. Faulkner, now 838-278 over 40 seasons, won the state championship 39 years ago on the same floor.