Gray Colligate boys basketball hopes to claim its fifth state championship in six years under Head Coach Dion Bethea. (Photos by Jacob Phillips)
Four high school basketball teams from the Midlands are looking to claim a South Carolina High School League state title this week.
The Irmo boys, Westwood girls, and Gray Colligates’ boys and girls teams advanced to the championship game after winning in last week’s SCHSL upper and lower state championships.
The teams are now practicing for their biggest game of the season, to be held at the University of South Carolina-Aiken starting Thursday.
Two teams are attempting to add another trophy to their case.
The other two are hoping to lift their first.
The second-winningest basketball coach in S.C. history is in the state title game for the first time since 2018.
Irmo boy’s basketball Head Coach Tim Whipple earned his 11th career championship game appearance last Friday. That’s the most of any 4A/5A coach in the state.
“This is a special thing that happens,” Whipple said. “There’s many coaches and many players that work forever to get to a point and never enjoy a state championship game.”
Irmo advanced to the title game after beating Hartsville, 54-38 in the 4A lower state championship game.
The Yellow Jackets finished the regular season 21-5 and 7-3 in their region.
Their record and strength of schedule earned them a No.1 seed in the playoffs.
“Our guys, from the summer on, they’ve been focused enough and put themselves in a situation where there’s the best possibility of being successful,” Whipple said. “It’s a credit to the work ethic that the guys have been able to maintain throughout an entire year.”
Senior center Brandon Crawford was this year’s 4A player of the year and led the Yellow Jackets this season.
He averaged 15 points and 7 rebounds per game.
He had 14 points, 10 rebounds and 6 blocks in the game against Hartsville.
“That skillset, especially on the defensive end, has been a blessing for us,” Whipple said. “I have never coached a player – and that’s over 40 years – never coached a player that has had a greater impact on the defensive end of the floor than Brandon has.”
Crawford was out for a significant time because of illness in the middle of the regular season.
Whipple said it was hard for the team but that stretch made them better.
“Through that adversity, you become better as individuals and as a group,” Whipple said. “Being able to survive that part of the year, grow from it, improve from it, and then when he was able to come back, get him back into the flow of things, was certainly instrumental in us being able to continue on to where we are now.”
Irmo will play Lancaster on Thursday for the boys 4A state championship. Whipple said he’ll remember this team as special regardless of the outcome.
“To put ourselves in position to win a state championship is absolutely incredible,” Whipple said. “It’s a very special moment and one of the highlights that I’ll remember for many years to come.”
Westwood finally made it over the mountain that was the semifinals.
After qualifying for the state semifinals four out of the past six years, the Redhawks earned their first-ever state championship appearance.
They will face North Augusta at 5 p.m. Thursday at 5 p.m.
“We finally got the monkey off our back,” Westwood Head Coach Gregory Bauldrick said. “We certainly understand the magnitude of the moment.”
The Redhawks finished the regular season 26-4 overall and undefeated in their region at 10-0.
Westwood held its opponents to under 40 points 18 times this season, including in its last eight games.
The Redhawks failed to score 40 points in only three games this season.
“They take pride in defending,” Bauldrick said. “They understand that the harder they defend, the more opportunities they have offensively.”
The Redhawks defeated region rival A.C. Flora, 52-37, last Friday in the lower state final.
Redhawk senior guard Jessica Woods was selected to the girl’s 4A All-State team.
The Campbell University commit scored 14 points against Flora to put her team in a position to make history.
Winning a state title would be the 10-year-old school’s first state championship for any team on campus.
“We are very humble(d) that we’ve got a shot to make history,” Bauldrick said. “We just want to be on the right side of it.”
Gray Collegiate will attempt to win its fifth championship in six seasons after defeating Keenan, 72-66, in last Friday’s upper state final.
The War Eagles are 4-0 in championship games under Head Coach Dion Bethea and are attempting to go back-to-back after missing out on the big game in 2021.
“It’s been a lot of hard work and new faces,” Bethea said. “Different group of guys this year who never won one – so just making sure they all believe and trust each other.”
Gray’s roster has the talent to win it all, Bethea said.
Montraivis White, a senior guard and 2A player of the year led the team in points, rebounds and assists this season with 15 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists per game.
Senior forward Avantae Parker earned a spot on the 2A All-State team after averaging 11 points per game and a 56% shooting percentage.
This is “probably one of our most talented groups,” Bethea said. “There’s plenty of times during the season that we could’ve folded, But we stayed together.”
Gray went 24-6 this year and thrashed its opponent in the first round of the SCHSL playoffs, 90-16.
The team scored 95 in its next game against Abbeville.
The War Eagles then beat Eau Claire by 29 before defeating Keenan to move on to the state final.
Bethea said his team has not played to its full potential, despite the strong performances.
“I still don’t think we played our best basketball yet,” Bethea said. “I think we might be saving it for Friday.”
Gray will face Oceanside at 7:30 p.m. for the 2A state championship.
Both the Gray boys and girls advanced to the state finals game for the first time ever.
Head Coach Brandon Wallace, who was Bethea’s first player to play in college, led his team to a 21-6 record and a title game in his first season.
“I’ve done it before as a player, and we’ve done it a lot on the boy’s side as an assistant,” Wallace said. “This first year has been special man. I’m really appreciative of the group. My coaching staff, we kind of set expectations to be here, but you never know if it’ll happen.”
Gray will face Bishop England for the 2A girls championship Friday at 6 p.m.
The War Eagles held their opponents to under 30 points in their first three playoff games.
Gray beat Greer 83-21 in the opening round before beating Mid-Carolina 88-27. The War Eagles were held to under 60 points in game three but still outscored their opponent by 31.
Gray relies on balanced offensive production.
“If you look at our roster, we had a lot of success,” Wallace said. “If you look on any of the All-State teams, we don’t have a kid on the team.”
The team’s leading scorer is senior forward Maliyiah Mason. But the team has six players that average at least five points.
The season has not been easy for the War Eagles, Wallace said. Only seven of the team’s 27 games were played at home.
“That alone, having to drive all over the state, playing tough competition,” Wallace said. “(We were) trying to get that good competition to prepare us for moments like this.
A new standard has been established for Gray Gray relies on balanced offensive production. basketball, whether or not the team wins on Friday.
Wallace wants qualifying for the state championship to be the goal every year.
“That’s one thing I take away from this,” Wallace said. “It’ll set the bar for teams down the road. Just as long as I’m here, that’ll always be the standard for this group.”
Gray Colligate’s girls team practices for its game against Bishop England. The War Eagles are seeking their first state championship.
Westwood senior Jessica Woods helped put her team in its first state championship final after making it to the semis four out of the past six years.
Gray Head Coach Dion Bethea has coached many players who have had successful college basketball careers. But he said he thinks this team is one of his most talented.
Gray Head Coach Brandon Wallace helped guide his team to the state championship game in his first season at the helm.