There’s a new duo of hoops queens in the Lowco, and their reign has only just begun. Bluffton freshmen Tacoya Heyward and Katie Rodney combined for 37 points and used their signature defensive dominance to defeat crosstown rival May River 48-30 on Wednesday, completing a three-game sweep of the Sharks and securing the first-ever girls Region 7-4A tournament championship.
“Our communication needs some work, but so far being region champs and champs in the tournament feels really good,” Heyward said.
The Bobcats took control right away with a quick 6-0 run, as Rodney started the night with a dazzling jumper before picking up a steal and taking it to the rim. After a quick timeout, Jermaine Bigham’s Sharks responded with a strong inside finish by Morgan Scott before a McKenna Swinton jumper cut the Bobcat lead to 6-4.
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Bluffton was starting to look a little shaky, but Heyward’s stellar defense reignited her squad’s offense. The freshman dropped a dime to Rodney up the court for a fast-break layup and took a steal to the hole herself for an easy finish. But May River snatched the momentum back with an impressive Scott putback and an Addison Black layup as time ticked down, trimming the lead to a single point at the end of the first quarter.
The Bobcats earned a trio of points at the free throw line to open the second period, but the Sharks found their shooting stroke to spark a 7-2 run. Charlotte Van Den Heuvel drilled a massive three-pointer, and Scott feasted in the paint to give her Sharks their first lead of the night.
It ended up being their only lead of the night.
With ice in her veins, Rodney struck back right away with a triple at the other end to put the ‘Cats back in front. A pair of Heyward foul shots stretched the advantage to four before Scott found Jordan Bigham for an open jumper to cut the lead to 20-18 with two quarters to play.
The Bobcats didn’t let the Sharks get any closer in the second half. Lonnie Roberts turned to a full-court press, frustrating the visitors with a barrage of forced turnovers leading to a dominant 12-4 third-period run.
“After they started killing us in the paint, our main focus was to stop the ball from getting in the paint by putting pressure on the guards,” Heyward said. “Katie, Cassandra Gray, and I played solid defense, and we just had to work to help out the bigs.”
May River held their own on the defensive side, but Heyward’s tremendous skill set was too much to contain. The speedy and crafty freshman dropped a pair of dazzling floaters to extend the lead, while Rodney cashed in from the line and scored off a putback to balloon the lead to 12.
The Sharks kept fighting, but a rash of turnovers thanks to a relentless Bobcat defensive effort kept the visitors from finding any consistent rhythm. Bluffton’s offense kept churning in the fourth with a pair of buckets from Jalynn Ferguson before Heyward and Rodney iced the region title from the line, sinking eight of nine shots from the stripe. With time winding down, the unstoppable freshman duo delivered the exclamation point, as Heyward found a wide-open Rodney at the rim for a spectacular and-one.
Rodney delivered a standout performance in the biggest game of the year, leading the Bobcats with 21 points. Heyward used her terrific defense to ignite a 16-point contest, and the senior duo of Ferguson and Kayleigh Washington added five each.
Scott scored 10 points to pace the Sharks, and Van Den Heuvel added five.
Bluffton (11-2, 9-0) begins its Class 4A state playoff run on Saturday, hosting Myrtle Beach.
May River (11-5, 7-2) earned the 7-4A second seed as tournament runners-up and will travel to North Augusta for the first round of the state playoffs.
By Wes Kerr