MYRTLE BEACH — With Socastee and Stall both coming off upset wins in the first round of the Class AAA girls basketball playoffs, it was hard to tell who would have more momentum going into Thursday’s match up.
Stall had the momentum for the first three quarters – not giving up the lead during that stretch – but that momentum shifted hands late.
Socastee held the Warriors to just two points in the fourth quarter and nailed some clutch free throws down the stretch en route to a come-from-behind 36-31 win that boosted it to the third round of the Class AAA playoffs.
Braves senior Kirstin Zanardo exited the game with 6:17 left in the second quarter after completing a lay up and injuring her ankle as she fell to the ground. Zanardo didn’t come back in, so Socastee acclimated its game without her.
“I’m just proud of them,” Braves coach Ginger Ford said. “I just told them at halftime to hang in there. I thought we were playing really strong defense and our shots weren’t falling. I think it showed a lot of heart after Kirstin Zanardo went down and we couldn’t play with her for the rest of the game. The other kids stepped it up and I think it was a total team effort.”
The momentum shift happened when junior Madison Lowe hit a go-ahead free throw with 1:43 left to give the Braves a 30-29 lead.
“Free throw shooting was key down the stretch,” Ford said. “I think mentally we could approach our defense a little bit differently [after that shot]. And we felt like we could mix it up and force some turnovers and that was big to get ahead because we hadn’t been ahead. So that was big.”
The Warriors held Smith, Socastee’s leading scorer, to zero points at halftime. Nonetheless, Smith scored all 11 of her points in the second half to help the Braves get over a slump.
“No I don’t [remember the last time that happened],” Ford said of Smith being held to zero points at the half. “But it looked like quite a few of them were nervous. I think when we came out after halftime, they decided to forget about what happened and just go out there and play and let it all hang out. We were calm at halftime. We felt like we could get a couple of breaks and we would be OK.”
Smith committed four fouls – and had to play with caution – but she executed. Smith hit a pair of free throws with 1:08 left to extend the Braves’ lead to 32-29. Then, Smith nailed another pair of charity shots to give Socastee a 35-31 lead with 18.8 seconds left, and Stall couldn’t come back. Kira Bell (11 points) was the only other Braves player to finish in double figures.
“Kira – being an eighth grader – was a little nervous in the beginning,” Ford said, “and I felt like the other kids picked her up in the second half. Also, Blake played well in the second half – she couldn’t get some shots to fall early – but she hung in there. She did get into some foul trouble, so I was a little afraid of that but we managed to withstand that.”
Stall held a 17-11 halftime lead. The Warriors’ Alexis Richardson scored eight of her 11 points in the first half and Alexis Patrick hit two treys and scored all six of her points in the first half.
“They took it to us the first half and they got a couple of really strong players,” Ford said. “However, we really wanted to win it bad for us at home – and for our fans – so we managed to overcome the odds from being behind.”
Ford’s Braves, which has taken down No. 2 seed Manning 56-49 on Monday, and played an entire slate of harsh Region VII-AAA games, believes they have the buoyancy they need to stay afloat in the playoffs.
“I know it’s going to be tough. We’re going to be on the road but we’ll be ready,” she said. “We picked up a little confidence that we had earlier and when we fell behind early, things happened mentally, we really have to work to overcome falling behind. We didn’t fall behind Monday night, we got out to the big lead, so we’re just looking to keep the momentum going.
“I’m just very proud of this basketball team. I felt like our region prepared us to play every game, and I’m glad we played those tough games.”
• STALL (31) – Zalaria Simpson 5, Essence Lloyd 4, Keonna Morrison 2, Shelby McGuire 1, Delia Butler 2, Alexis Patrick 6, Alexis Richardson 11.
• SOCASTEE (36) –Blake Smith 11, Sadreona Grant 3, Kira Bell 11, Madison Lowe 3, Kirstin Zanardo 2, Sierrah McCarthy 6.
• 3-point goals: Stall 2 (Patrick 2); Socastee 1 (McCarthy). Team fouls: Stall 19, Socastee 11. Fouled out: Richardson. Technical fouls: None.
• Records: Stall 16-7, Socastee 16-10.
Contact MAX McKINNON at 444-1767.