St. James had happier endings over the course of the past three months.
In fact, they had 18 of them – the number of victories the Sharks piled up while putting together the best season in school history. And while it all officially ended with an 81-77 loss to Darlington in the third round of the playoffs on Wednesday, Monty Carr’s team showed something in the final half of its final game of the season that may be as memorable as many of those wins.
“We were beat down; [Darlington] knocked down who knows how many 3s the first half,” Carr said. “For them not to give up, I give our guys credit. That has been our trademark all season.
“Once our guys realized it was a basketball game, they gave themselves a chance to win.”
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That didn’t look like it was even a possibility early.
After trailing by 19 points at halftime, the Sharks initiated an energetic comeback that brought them to a two-point game with 10 seconds to go. While bringing the ball up-court with a chance to tie or win, however, a pair of Darlington guards made sure their team would be making a third consecutive trip to the Lower State finals.
Falcon junior Marquis Green tipped just enough of a pass to allow teammate Frankie Johnson to complete the steal. Johnson converted an uncontested layup to seal the victory.
“He’s been there all year for us,” Darlington coach Ken Howle said of Johnson, who was averaging 19.9 points per game prior to the game. “Marquis got his hand on it and Frankie came up with it. I have a few guys left over from last year’s team. But Frankie’s experience is big.”
Those plays in the closing moments spoiled St. James’ run, one that included Zach Werba – who had not scored in the first three quarters – drilling five 3-pointers in a matter of minutes to open the final period.
“That’s been Zach all year,” Sharks junior Jackson Hurston said after dropping a game-high 21 points of his own. “When he hits, he’s our best shooter by far.”
Said Carr: “We always rely on him to knock down some shots. The way they were playing, they gave him some open shots.”
Werba’s performance was a solid answer after Darlington sprinted out to that huge first-half lead. The Falcons connected on three 3s in the first 100 seconds of the game and 10 total in the opening half.
The 54 points the Falcons put up before the break was more than St. James allowed in all but eight games this season. That figure topped both totals from each of the Sharks’ first two playoff games, wins over Aiken and Orangeburg-Wilkinson.
St. James changed the pace, though, in the second half. It held Darlington to nine third-quarter points. The Sharks 28-point fourth quarter points then made sure it was close late.
It just wasn’t close enough.
The Falcons will be heading to the Florence Civic Center and the state semifinals to face Midland Valley, the No. 2 team in Class AAA.
St. James, a school that had just one playoff victory in its first 11 years prior to this season, doubled that total in a span of four days last week. However, the postseason run couldn’t withstand the trip to Darlington.
“We broke a lot of records this year,” Hurston said. “This is definitely going to be an unforgettable season.”
•ST. JAMES (77):
Zach Werba 15, Jackson Hurston 21, Haywood Brandon 20, Garrett Mullis 9, Jordan Fields 12.
Darius Green 4, Tyriq Smith 16, Frankie Johnson 12, Louis Richardson 7, J.J. Jackson 11, Marquis Green 21, Javaskie Richardson 5, Donovan Johnson 5.
15201428—77Darlington2430918—81• 3-point goals: D 10 (T. Smith, F. Johnson 2, J.J. Jackson 2, Green 4, D. Johnson); SJ 9 (Werba 5, Hurston 3, J. Fields 1). Team fouls: D 15, SJ 21. Fouled out: G. Mullis (SJ). Technical fouls: Javaskie Richards (DAR).
• Records: St. James 20-7; Darlington 19-5.