MYRTLE BEACH — Near the end of the third quarter, the look in Myrtle Beach’s players’ eyes changed.
Down by as many as 16 points after halftime to Midland Valley, the Seahawks made one play at a time, none all that much more impressive than the one before. But they added up.
A group of nine seniors continued to make those plays. Eventually, they negated the lead entirely, forced overtime and then punched its ticket to Florence for the Lower State finals with a 55-51 win over the Mustangs in the third round of the Class AAA playoffs.
In this case, experience was all that mattered.
“With this group, from the summer on through, we’ve played the best competition in the state,” Myrtle Beach coach Craig Martin said. “We’ve had these games. I can go through game and game and game where we’ve had one-point games. A lot of times it’s our fault and we’re not executing.
“I don’t like it. I’d much rather go in there and win by 10 or 15 points and dominate the game. But we’re down to the final four; you’re going to play against great competition.”
Midland Valley entered the game as one of the other three teams in Class AAA to have garnered the top vote in the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association poll for at least one week this season. The Mustangs, who eventually finished second in Region V, proved they weren’t going to roll over after a bus ride exceeding four hours earlier in the day.
Guys like Kameron Brown (15 points), Daniel Carr (13) and Devon Young (nine) were the impetus for Midland Valley’s big lead.
The Seahawks were visibly flustered, and they looked much like they have early against several opponents in recent weeks. But for the third straight playoff game, Myrtle Beach outscored its opponent after halftime. The Seahawks blew by Berkeley to prevent any type of a comeback in the first round. Against Hartsville on Saturday, Martin’s squad overcame a halftime deficit, outscoring the Red Foxes by 14 after the break.
And after a quick burst by Midland Valley to open the third, Myrtle Beach did it again.
“We got a couple turnovers and really hit a run,” senior Graham Vaughn said. “We believe in ourselves. When we hit that run, there’s no telling what can happen. You never get it back. We knew that the first two-and-a-half quarters, we’d never get it back. It kind of hits you. It’s our senior year; we just had to step up. We could have thought ‘What could you have done?’”
Vaughn ultimately connected on a free throw with 12.8 seconds left in overtime to all but lock up Myrtle Beach’s victory.
Brooks Swanson, who connected on a monster 3-pointer with 30 seconds in regulation to help complete the comeback and force overtime, led all scorers with 23 points. All but five of those came after halftime.
His production was a microcosm of how the team played as a whole.
“The middle to end of the third quarter, that’s when we really starting putting that pressure on them. That’s when I said, ‘Now we’re finally playing our game,’” Swanson said.
Myrtle Beach will move on to Saturday’s Lower State finals to face Darlington, the team that came onto the Seahawks’ home court in the third round a year ago to end the team’s season.
Revenge will be on Myrtle Beach fans’ minds.
The team, however, will be concentrating on something else.
“Both in the Hartsville game and this game, there’s two good teams playing defense,” Martin said. “You don’t want to take anything away from them. But we’re missing shots right now that we normally make. That’s kind of disappointing to me because that puts you in a situation where you have to win the game at the end. It’s a combination of them playing good defense – both teams that we just got done playing – but we’ve got to make shots.
“Those are shots that we normally make, and I think we’ll make them on Saturday.”
• MIDLAND VALLEY (51) – Daniel Carr 13, Devon Young 9, Taijha Turner 5, Kameron Brown 15, Bryan Johnson 3, Miles Gilmore 4, Aaron Ray 2.
• MYRTLE BEACH (55) – Anthony McNeil 7, Graham Vaughn 7, Soloman Cooper 12, Rivers Singleton 1, Brooks Swanson 23, Drew Allan 2, Will Gray 3.
• 3-point goals: MV 4 (Brown 2, Johnson, Turner); MB 2 (McNeil, Swanson). Team fouls: MV 18, MB 19. Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: None.
• Records: Midland Valley 23-4; Myrtle Beach 22-6.
Contact IAN GUERIN at firstname.lastname@example.org.