From the opening tipoff in November to the final buzzer at Sumter Civic Center, Hilton Head Christian Academy’s girls left no doubt.
Dior Shelton poured in 17 points in her final game, and Kenny Conroy’s Eagles delivered a defensive gem Saturday to punctuate another phenomenal run, besting Palmetto Christian Academy 48-32 in the SCISA 2A state championship game to earn their third straight title.
“It was extremely special to win three state championships with this group of girls,” junior Skylar Smith said. “We all found our roles and played them very well. We played like a team and pushed each other, and that’s what makes it so special to see us all succeed.”
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It didn’t start off as planned for the defending champs, as PCA freshman phenom Yannah Seaberry showcased her stellar shot on the first possession, banging a three to put her squad out in front. HHCA’s girls responded right away, using their hard work and hustle on the glass to answer back. Shelton opened her team’s scoring with a layup before cashing in again after a hard-fought series of offensive rebounds to take a 4-3 lead. But a rash of turnovers and careless mistakes turned into trouble as PCA nailed a jumper and took advantage of a failed box-out to gain a 9-7 advantage.
After a sloppy first period, HHCA awoke in the second to take control of the championship game. The terrific freshman guard duo turned it on, as Molly Smith found the hoop on a layup before the electric Devon Yarde zoomed to the hole to grab a 13-10 lead. Seaberry struck again with a deep three to tie it, but HHCA’s stifling defense took over, pressuring every pass and shot to force a flurry of turnovers on the next five possessions.
“We adjusted to the slow start by scoring off their turnovers and adjusting our defense,” Shelton said.
It was Dior’s moment, and in the final game of her legendary career, the senior superstar ignited her squad to a game-changing 8-0 run. Shelton showcased her dominant and versatile game on both ends, picking up steals on defense, splashing a difficult midrange jumper, and draining a rebound putback to push her team ahead. Then the reliable Abby Peduzzi continued the surge, finishing off a Skylar Smith feed before scoring again on a strong take to the rim as HHCA continued to outwork its opponents in the paint to build a double-digit lead. PCA couldn’t find much offensive consistency after getting in some foul trouble, but Seaberry continued her scorching-hot stroke from beyond the arc, sinking another pair of triples including an amazing shot at the buzzer to cut it to 29-21 at the half.
Conroy’s squad laid the dagger down in the third quarter, using a superb defensive effort to hold PCA to just two points in the period. Shelton and Skylar Smith feasted on both ends, knocking down jumpers and swatting away their opponents’ bids on defense to swell the advantage to 14. Then Peduzzi showed off her skill in the post, draining a pair of tough buckets to end the third quarter with 12 unanswered HHCA points. With a 41-23 lead intact going into the final period, the Eagles could taste the ultimate prize — again.
PCA made its final push as the fourth quarter commenced, but Hilton Head Christian continued to have the answer on the other end. Shelton and fellow senior Mary Yanker polished off their astounding careers with a brilliant play, as Shelton found Yanker with a dazzling inside bounce pass for an and-one.
Hilton Head Christian relied on its stellar ball-handling and passing to drain the clock and finish off an incredible third consecutive state championship win. There was no late drama this time around, as the SCISA 2A queens displayed a clinic of exceptional second-half basketball to conclude a season for the ages in a year like no other.
“Last year’s win motivated us by all the hard work we put in,” Skylar Smith said. “We all stepped it up and by the end of the season, we played great together. Offense wins games, but defense wins championships. We proved what we were made of winning this third state championship.”
Shelton penned a magical final chapter of her legendary HHCA story, leading the way with 17 points and delivering a scintillating defensive performance. Abby Peduzzi followed up her brother’s spectacular football title in the fall, dominating inside to the tune of 11 massive points in a defensive affair. Skylar Smith shined on the biggest stage once again, scoring eight points and making enormous impacts across the court.
Before the season began, Shelton laid down three goals: score 1,000 career points, go unbeaten in the region, and win a state championship. Now, she’s accomplished them all.
After guiding her squad to becoming a full-fledged dynasty, Dior departs after leading her Eagles to four straight undefeated region campaigns, an overall record of 94-7, and three state titles in a row. She’s left an incredible legacy that will continue at the program for years to come.
“I’m very excited that we won our third championship,” Shelton said. “I’m very appreciative of my teammates and coaches.”
By Wes Kerr