A new class of greatness
This Saturday, March 4, the Bishop England varsity girls’ basketball team will head to Columbia’s Colonial Life Arena to compete for their fourth consecutive state championship title.
An inauspicious start by the Lady Bishops in the early moments of their S.C. Lower State girls’ title tilt against the Jaguars of Ridgeland-Hardeeville on February 25 saw the pre-season top-ranked Class AAA team in the state and three-time reigning Class AA state champions experience something that has rarely happened in the last six years – a rough start. The feisty full-court-pressing Ridgeland-Hardeeville squad took an early 4-0 lead in the first quarter of last Saturday’s game, throwing the game’s first metaphorical punch.
But the Battling Bishops endured the early jab, and soon showed off the tactics, the skill and the athleticism that has turned them into a Class AA, and now a Class AAA prize-fighter. Fueled by star point guard Rhetta Moore’s 12 first-quarter points, including a stellar 6-of-6 from the free-throw line, Bishop England closed the first quarter on a 20-4 run and never looked back.
The Jags kept on with their man-to-man full-court press, but the Lady Bishops offensive cohesion, sparked, again, by guard Moore, led to the team breaking down the press and turning the pressure into offensive opportunity for the Bishops, with Bishop England in effect beating Ridgeland-Hardeeville at their own, fast-paced game.
In the end, the Bishops (23-3) advanced to their sixth-straight state championship game by holding off Jaguars (21-6) by a final score of 60-45. The Lady Bishops will next face Newberry in the AAA championship game this weekend in Columbia.
“We were prepared, we knew where they were going to be, we knew what they were going to do, you just don’t know if your players are going to make the right decisions,” said Lady Bishops Head Girls’ Basketball Coach Paul Runey. “We spent the whole week saying ‘if you will do this and you will go here,’ basically the way Ridgeland was playing it, ‘you will get a back door or you will get this.’”
“But with Ridgeland we knew they were a run and gun team that relied heavily on getting the ball from you and going in for lay-ups,” he continued. “Our game plan was to limit that and force them into playing a half-court offense.”
The second half slowed down scoring-wise, but the Lady Bishops had built a 38-24, 14-point cushion at half time that they never relinquished.
“I thought that whenever we had to have a play, whether it was offensively or defensively, most of the time we were successful, and that’s why we were able to keep Ridgeland at a double-digit distance,” added Runey. “We didn’t score a lot of points in the second half, but we didn’t take many shots either. We were conservative, but that comes with having a 14-point halftime lead.”
And while the stellar play of star Moore paced the Lady Bishops, rebounding proved to be a decided edge in the game with the team logging 18 on the offensive end. Katie Cullum had eight rebounds, Josie Denis joined Moore with seven a piece, and Katie Brooks and Kelly Drummond each grabbed six boards a piece.
“Rhetta just does so much, a lot of that had to do with it but what we’ve also improved on and grown more effective with is our inside people,” said Runey. “We didn’t allow Ridgeland as many second-chance points as they typically get.”
When the game came down to crunch time, the Lady Bishops did what great teams do, they sunk their free throws. With time winding down and the Jags turning to the strategic, if desperate act to put their opponent on the line in an attempt to test their mental mettle and free-throw ability, the Lady Bishops proved they’re of championship pedigree, sinking 22-of-29 overall in the game and 9-of-10 in the critical fourth quarter.
“I was very pleased with our foul shooting,” added Runey, who reported his team shot just 60 percent from the charity stripe during the regular season. “Possession-wise, they took a lot more shots, but we made ours.”
The all-state selection Moore finished with a game-high 25 points to go with seven rebounds and four assists. Her point total left her only 13 shy of third-place on the decorated program’s all-time scoring list. Should she eclipse that total in the Class AAA State Finals this Saturday against Newberry, she would take over the spot from her sister Mary Harriet Moore who shared the court as a senior with her younger sister on the 2014 Lady Bishops AA state title team.
If this year’s Lady Bishops can pull of what the 2014 team did and win it all, Rhetta Moore will have another distinction all her own: she’ll be the only player in school history to win a state championship in each of her four high school years.
On the defensive end, a zone defense limited the Jaguars to a mere 28 percent shooting on the night, but Ridgeland-Hardeeville’s Quanajia Drayton did turn in a fine offensive performance with 19 points for the Jags.
Should the Bishops win the Class AAA state title game, they’ll not only join elite company as one of only six teams in state history to win four in a row, but with five titles in six years, and the last moving up in class to do so, the win could propel the Bishops and Coach Paul Runey into legends in the world of S.C. high school athletics.
The S.C. Class AAA Girls’ Basketball Championship Game between Bishop England and Newberry will be held this coming Saturday, March 4 at 2 p.m. at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia.
In the last four years, the Bishops under Coach Paul Runey have amassed an incredible overall record of 150 wins vs. 14 losses. That’s a winning percentage a tad over 91 percent. The NBA’s Golden State Warriors recently set the highest all-time winning percentage for a regular season. Their winning percentage: 89 percent.