NINETY SIX --Sports can be weird sometimes. The unpredictable and, at times, the unfathomable can happen. The Ninety Six girls basketball team got a dose of what that can feel like Tuesday night after being upset by No. 4 seeded, Chesterfield, 52-50.
The Wildcats came in as the No. 1 seed, going 10-0 in their division and 15-6 overall. Led by seniors Ginger Cannon, Mary Ashley Moore and Tajea Barr, the team was looking at a deeper run in the playoffs, not a one-and-done.
But the girls came out with little energy and never looked comfortable, despite its lead until the end of the third quarter.
“(We) panicked in pressure situations,” head coach Anarie Duckett said. “We didn’t take care of the basketball, they took our guards out of the game and our post players had to handle the ball a little bit more than they normally do.”
The Wildcats couldn’t keep up with Chesterfield’s backcourt and its uptempo pace. Ninety Six didn’t get it going in the first quarter, either, scoring just seven points. Though they held their opponent to just five after the first period, that was the first red flag.
The Wildcats are usually a prolific offensive team that features Cannon, Moore and Barr as their primary scorers. But it was just Barr who accounted for all seven of the team’s points in the first.
Ninety Six finished the half on an 9-0 run and extended the margin to 23-16. The team went up by as many as 11, when it took a 35-24 lead to end the third. But Chesterfield didn’t let up, ripping off an 11-0 lead of its own, going into the fourth quarter up, 39-37.
“We just made some bad passes (in the third quarter),” Duckett said. “We didn’t play extremely good defense, especially down the stretch. We got out of our game. I told them (her team) before the game started, ‘We’ve got to do what got us where we are right now.’ And we did in the first half, but the second half they took it away from us.”
The fourth quarter brought even more drama. It never reach the high-powered offense Ninety Six is used to showing, but the Wildcats battled. Chesterfield hit a clutch 3 to put the Rams up three with just under three minutes to play, but then Moore responded with a trey of her own, knotting it up, 46-46.
Two key free throws down the stretch, again by Moore, tied it up at 48 and then a layup by Barr--who finished the game with 25 points--evened the score at 50.
But an offensive board by Chesterfield on the ensuing possession with 3.4 seconds sealed the win and upset.
Tears were shed by the Wildcats, and Duckett, who was hard on her girls all game, began to console and reflect on the team and her four seniors, Barr, Moore, Cannon and Christa Saxon, who she calls the closest bunch she’s ever coached.
“They’ve played all the way through middle school together,” Duckett said. “I can’t say enough about them. They’ve worked hard, they’ve strove, they had a goal and they just fell one game short, because our goal was to get through the first round of the playoffs.”
Contact staff writer Julian McWilliams at 864-223-1814 or on Twitter @JulianMack105