For the second straight season, the Region 7-4A champion Bluffton Bobcats are out in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs.
Sommer Joseph scored all 10 of her points in the second half while stymying a potent Bluffton attack, and the visiting Darlington Falcons rallied from a five-point deficit Wednesday to stun the Bobcats 38-33.
Bluffton started strong in the opening period, employing its strong defensive hustle and converting some tough buckets in the paint. Ja’laina Mosley nailed a floater from close range, and Tacoya Heyward knocked down a pair of foul shots to complete an early 8-3 run. But the Bobcat offense went cold to start the second, as Joseph disrupted Bluffton’s drives to the rim while cleaning up on the glass.
Darlington’s quick hands on defense and crisp passing brought the Falcons back, as Jamera Madison notched a pair of steals and turned them into buckets on the other end to ignite a 10-0 run and grab a 13-8 lead. The Bobcats were playing careless basketball on the offensive side, making poor passes and routinely losing control of the ball while Joseph denied any easy looks inside.
Heyward finally broke the drought with a three from a Katie Rodney feed, and Trinity Fields made a pair of free throws to take momentum into the locker room and tie the game at 13. The Bobcats needed to stay strong on the defensive side of the ball and force turnovers of their own, but they had no answer for Joseph, who continued to win on the glass and convert crucial buckets inside to put the Falcons back on top. The troubles from the opening half continued to mount for the Region 7-4A champs, as Tamira Benton poked away the basketball and dished it to Aukeyonna Sims for a layup to restore the five-point cushion.
Bluffton got a gift on a missed point-blank layup from Sims, and a swarming Bobcat defense took advantage, scoring nine consecutive points off a series of quick steals from Heyward and Rodney to go out in front 24-20 heading into the fourth. But a rattled Darlington team got right back to work in the final period, as a Benton steal set up an Aryanna McPhail layup to cut the lead in half before Heyward answered on a dazzling circus shot.
The game’s physicality began to heighten in the final minutes, and a collision near half-court injured Bluffton’s Fields. Without the services of sophomore big Madi Washington, losing her replacement left the Bobcats struggling to defend and rebound in the paint as Darlington surged ahead to go up by eight with Joseph leading the way.
Mosley gave her team life with a three-pointer as the clock ticked down under a minute, but a string of turnovers and missed shots sunk the Region 7-4A champs as Darlington completed the shocking upset win.
Heyward led the Bobcats with 16 points, Mosley put up eight points, and Rodney scored all six of her points in the second half.
Bluffton finishes the season with a record of 20-2 including a perfect 12-0 mark in region play.
By Wes Kerr
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