When your season is riding on just a single game, every point, rebound, steal, and bucket means so much more on the court. From a dynasty looking to run it back to some up-and-coming programs in search of that signature run, we’ve got several Lowco teams primed to take it deep in the postseason. Let’s take a look at some key playoff contenders before the dance tips off on Wednesday.
Hilton Head Christian Academy girls
It’s been a workmanlike season for Kenny Conroy’s squad as the Eagles prepare for a run at what would be an incredible fourth consecutive SCISA 2A state title. The rebounding and scoring of Dior Shelton was a big loss coming into the season, but reliable junior Abby Peduzzi has led the way with her tenacity on the glass and her scoring ability in the post while locking in on defense. Peduzzi’s dominance may be the major story of this year’s team, but you can’t forget about speedy guard Devon Yarde and do-it-all Estill transfer Tamya Hutchinson. Junior Jai’da Grayson has stepped up her game to become a reliable scoring outlet and a prolific passer, and Skylar Smith’s clutch shooting and unmatched leadership continue to show up in every big game she plays. The Eagles were tested in a big way at rival Hilton Head Prep last Friday but showed their resiliency and hunger on defense to hold the Dolphins off the board in the fourth quarter. If they can carry that same intensity into the playoffs with their group of proven winners, we could be looking at a fourth straight title in two weeks’ time.
Hilton Head Prep boys
Could this be the year the Dolphins break through and go deep in a daunting SCISA 3A bracket? We learned that they’ll have much more work to do quickly after a 20-point loss at the hands of First Baptist on Saturday. But maybe this was the lesson they needed before things really get going next week. The core is still capable of doing something special and was boosted by a key group of transfers this year led by dominant big man Sean Cusano. He’s grown his potent connection with senior JJ Hayes alongside dynamic junior Kane Eanes to make up a loaded and experienced frontcourt. But that’s just the start of a deep and talented Dolphin squad with a pair of hard-working guards in Beaufort Academy and Hilton Head Christian Academy transfers Ben Frey and Andrew Helms. They may not be leading the scoring, but the duo has brought a jolt of energy on the defensive side while helping knock down key shots and distribute the ball. The return of senior Ryan Mikell has provided another reliable outside shooter for Hayes and company to turn to, and the depth production from Connor Campbell, Jason Britschge, and Christian Jablonski could prove very important in some challenging games to come.
Whale Branch girls
Possibly the favorite to cut the nets at USC Aiken last year, the Warriors’ season came to a crashing halt with a stunning first-round loss to Lamar. Now without key post presence Zhani Thompson this year, it will be up to Kynew Barnwell and a handful of role players to make a run in a difficult 1A bracket. They’ll need Barnwell to take care of the basketball and hit some outside shots combined with some strong defensive play and rebounding from center Erin Rivers. A big spark from the role players would always help, and Heaven Grant has shown her potential after a 21-point game against St. John’s. The Warriors nearly got top-ranked and defending champion Military Magnet earlier this season, and have the pieces in place plus the hunger of last year’s disappointment to prove themselves this time and make a deep run of their own.
They haven’t lost a single region game since 2019 and just finished off their second straight perfect Region 7-4A run, but the Bluffton Bobcats have much bigger goals in mind. Their aspirations took a major hit with the loss of sophomore big Madi Washington, but the Bobcats still have Tacoya Heyward and an emerging core around her as they look to break through in the 4A postseason. All Coya has done is produce since Washington went down, averaging 16.7 points through her last three games. But the biggest surprise has been the play of Trinity Fields, who has stepped right into Washington’s role and thrived to the tune of a 12-rebound effort against James Island. With the defensive dominance from Heyward and Katie Rodney alongside the growth of Fields and seventh-grader Amirah Brown, the talent is still there for Lonnie Roberts and the ‘Cats to get over that second-round hump and make a charge deep into February.
Beaufort High boys
The most impressive part of Beaufort’s High romp to a Region 7-4A title? The Eagles had to do it without reliable forward Zyrin Odom, who missed the last three games after his ejection at Hilton Head High. But that road loss to the Seahawks may have been just what the Eagles needed, thundering past Colleton County, May River, and James Island in the region championship game. It all starts with the work of James Dennison, Michael Dennison, and Odom, but the guards have stepped up as the season has progressed. Jake Alvarez has made the strides as a ball-handler, scorer, and defender that Jeremy Huff was hoping for, and Anderson Jones has earned his reputation as one of the scrappiest and hardest-working players in the Lowco. The Eagles responded in a big way after falling down to the mat at the Nest. Where will they go from here? The 4A Lower State playoffs will be no joke, and the Eagles will face a sneaky North Myrtle Beach team to start and could get a heck of a test in round 2 against West Florence before a potential duel with North Augusta in the Lower State semis. Huff will need all hands on deck going forward and the Kirkland Krazies to do their job as they begin what could be another special postseason run in Lady’s Island.
The playoffs have arrived with thankfully fewer bumps in the road compared to last year, and we’re set for the most exciting two (or maybe three?!) weeks of basketball in the Lowco. We’ve got the usual suspects looking to continue their reign at the top, and some squads hoping to prove that this year will be a new story. It’s time to buckle up for some non-stop action, and we’ll have all the heart-pounding playoff coverage for you with recaps, podcasts, spotlights, and more. Get ready hoops junkies, the February frenzy is here.
By Wes Kerr
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