Dramatic, emotional championship win for Lady Bishops!
Eight seconds. That was all that stood between the Bishop England High School varsity girls’ basketball team and the possibility of a fourth consecutive state championship title last Saturday.
Down just one point at 47-46 in the championship match-up against Upstate champs Newberry High School at Columbia’s Colonial Life Arena, the Lady Bishops got possession of the ball. As the clock ticked, BE made the inbound pass and players scrambled into position. With a swarming Newberry defense on full tilt, BE’s Josie Dennis captured a pass from teammate Christine Egede and blasted the ball to sophomore Katie Cullum, who had moved into position under the basket. With just one second left, Cullum shot the ball up and in for the win in a nail-biting, buzzer-beating finish.
“We knew we had to shoot the ball, but our shooters didn’t have the ball,” said Cullum. “So, I cut to the basket…It didn’t sink in until Allie (Tucker) jumped out onto the court and grabbed me, I didn’t realize we had just won!”
“They never gave up,” said an emotional Coach Paul Runey in a TV interview after the game. “I’m just real proud of the girls…To be able to pull this out in the end, it doesn’t get any sweeter than this.”
Victory looked to be a long way off at the start of the game for the Bishops. Newberry secured an early lead - and stayed on top for the first three quarters, while BE struggled to get rebounds and points on the board.
“The big thing was Newberry was playing really strong defense,” Runey said on Monday. “We were just (telling ourselves) ‘don’t panic, there’s plenty of time. Get the ball inside and we should be in good shape.’”
As the game went on, senior and all-state guard Rhetta Moore, competing in her fourth state championship game for the Bishops, was certainly feeling the heat.
“They were a lot quicker and stronger than we thought (they would be),” said Moore. “But also, we couldn’t hit a shot in the first half. Things that we would normally score on we weren’t and that was really throwing us off…I think there was definitely a little panic at half-time, but we kept within striking distance the whole time, which is what we needed to do.”
At the half, Newberry led 25-18. BE’s Kelly Drummond dropped two successful free throws in the third quarter, closing the score gap to 41-39. The turning point, added Moore, came in the fourth quarter when sophomore Katie Brooks charged in with a successful two point shot and then, after being fouled, gained another point from the charity stripe.
With just over a minute remaining on the clock, Newberry still hung onto the lead at 43-42. Moore then sunk a two-pointer to put the team on top for the first time in the game, and followed that up with another basket. Newberry then gained three more points, tying up the contest at 46-46 with 32 seconds remaining. The Bulldogs then took it to 47-46 with a successful shot from the free throw line. With just eight seconds to go, Bishop England called a time-out.
“Coach Runey, at the time out, he had this play drawn up where I would end up getting the ball, and if I didn’t get it, anyone who got the ball would take it to the basket no matter what,” recalled Moore. “…When Christine (Egede) had the ball at the post at the top of key, I was so nervous and I felt helpless because I was away from the ball, and then Josie (Dennis) got it and she drove in and had four (Newberry) girls on her…And then she had this beautiful assist to Katie Cullum who was wide open!”
“Josie did a great job protecting the ball and the fact she was able to drive drew all the attention,” added Runey. “…Josie looked up and saw Katie all by herself. Josie had to make one heck of a pass with four defenders, so a lot of credit has to go to that pass being put exactly where it needed to be!”
The rest will certainly go down in Bishop England history. With a final score of 48-47, the Bishop England girls’ varsity basketball team became the first in the school’s basketball program and one of only six teams in South Carolina to earn four consecutive state titles. They’ve also earned five state titles in six years - and took this season’s top prize after bumping up a division.
“When (Katie Cullum) made that shot I think every possible emotion I could ever feel went through my body,” added Moore. “It was the happiest feeling because we won, a sad feeling because it was my last Bishop England game ever, and just excitement, there was all of this adrenaline just pumping through!”
“I just thought ‘Oh, my God! We just won the state championship!” exclaimed Runey. “…I think that whole coliseum was stunned when that ball went in!…I was so happy for the girls.”
Moore led the team with 16 points, followed by Christine Egede with 10, Katie Brooks with nine, Katie Cullum with six, Josie Dennis with four and Allie Tucker with two. Brooks and Edege scored tops in rebounds with eight each, while Moore had the highest number of steals at six. In assists, Brooks led the pack with a total of five.
“It was an unbelievable year for those kids and they exceeded everybody’s expectations,” said Runey.
Indeed, there may have been some who doubted the team’s potential coming into the new season, as they lost five of their six starters at graduation last year and moved up a division. But underclassman players, who each got a lot of playing time in the 2016-2017 season, rose to the challenge, said Runey.
“On paper it was definitely a rebuilding year,” he said. “But you weren’t rebuilding with kids who didn’t get opportunities on the floor. We’re going into next year and will lose four of our five starters, but you’ve got Katie Cullum, Katie Brooks and Kelly Drummond, who should all step up to be starters.”
Runey concedes it will be tough losing star point guard Rhetta Moore next season, but he is confident the team has what it takes to be successful again.
“Probably the one that’s gonna hurt us the most is losing Rhetta, and her ball handling” he said. “That’s an area we’re going to have to address and work on for next year. But this group, they played hard all year long. Nobody was worried about their own stats…They were very, very unselfish. They would look to pass before they would look to take a shot.”
Moore earned a couple of big milestones herself with Saturday’s victory. She is the first Bishop England athlete to win four consecutive state titles - and also earned third place on BE’s all-time scoring list, taking the coveted spot from her sister, BE graduate and former player Mary Harriet Moore.
“I called her afterwards and she was so happy for me,” said Moore. “She said, ‘If anyone ever beats my record, I want it to be you!’”
As Moore contemplates her next steps in terms of college and whether or not she will continue her basketball career (something she can’t imagine not doing), she took time to reflect on a team that has undoubtedly left its mark.
“It’s true that we may not have had four all-state players, but we have something so special. Everyone plays with so much heart. And that win was the perfect way to show it…I will never forget that moment!”