As their opponents fielded questions about the pressure of living up to the legacy of playing for a perennial powerhouse — a Keenan High School program that has claimed seven state titles, including three since 2010 — Ridgeland-Hardeeville coach Jeremiah Faber Sr. and guards Ny’Gel Boozer and Devin Butler sat at the other end of the table, almost afterthoughts at the Class 3A state championship press conference Monday.
Then Faber’s strong, deep voice spoke up to answer a question he wasn’t asked.
“We haven’t won a state championship, but if you look at our program over the last six years, there aren’t too many programs — maybe we haven’t caught up to the Keenans or the Hemingways, but I’ll tell you one thing, Ridgeland-Hardeeville HIgh School has been right in the thick of things,” the legendary Jaguars coach said, pointing out the Jaguars have won 145 games over the past six seasons and claimed six consecutive region championships. “We don’t get the recognition because of where we are, but when it comes to tradition, our program is one of the best programs in the state of South Carolina.”
Still, when the S.C. High School League began selling tickets to the Class 3A boys state championship game, set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Columbia’s Colonial Life Arena, Keenan’s opponent was listed as the “Rideland Panthers.”
Not surprisingly, the Jaguars are likely to wear that chip on their shoulder Saturday afternoon when they play in the Class 3A title game for the second consecutive year and try to give Faber and the school their first championship.
The Jaguars admit they were somewhat intimidated on this stage a year ago against a powerhouse Southside team that used a huge size advantage inside to wear down RHHS en route to a 74-58 win.
But if last year was the dress rehearsal, the Jags are ready to drop the curtain on the real thing.
“Last year we were young, and this was our first time going (to the state finals),” senior guard Devin Butler said. “Everybody felt like it was an accomplishment to get there. But this year we feel like we have a good chance to get it.”
Their odds improved earlier this week when the SCHSL rescinded the suspension of RHHS star Rashamel Butler, the Class 3A Co-Player of the Year who had been handed a two-game suspension after receiving two technical fouls in a playoff win over Marion.
The Jaguars (26-3) survived the Lower State final against Manning without Rashamel Butler, but they would have been hard-pressed to match up with the Raiders at either end of the floor without him in the lineup.
Keenan (29-1) suffered its only loss Dec. 28 against Dorman in the Chick-fil-A Classic and has won each of its playoff games by at least 15 points (and three of the four by 21 or more). The Jaguars will again give up size inside, but they’re counting on the qualities that have built the program into a perennial contender — work ethic, grit, and sheer determination — to help them take the next step, and perhaps earn some of that recognition that has evaded them.
“I think we can win the ballgame if we do the simple things,” Faber said. “If we play within our strengths at both ends of the floor and just do the simple things, I think we’ll come away with the win.”