FLORENCE — Zaria Snipes was beaming late Friday night.
In the underbelly of the Florence Civic Center, the tiniest player on the Orangeburg-Wilkinson Bruinettes’ roster, listed at 5-5, could not hide her emotions.
“This just feels great,” Snipes said. “I wish I could step up every single game like this to help make my team better.”
In the Lower State title game, Snipes rose from the bench, coming back from a shoulder injury that sidelined her late in the third, to lead the Bruinettes to a 51-43 Lower State title game victory over the Goose Creek Lady Gators.
She led all scorers with 17 points.
“She grew up tonight,” Orangeburg-Wilkinson head coach Josh Staley said of the sophomore guard. “We have been talking about legacy. How do you want to be remembered?”
Chances are good that Snipes will be remembered as legend. She won’t be alone because as brilliant as Snipes was in the backcourt, the biggest player on the Bruinettes, 6-4 center Nyilah Jamison-Myers, a Clemson commitment, was equally brilliant in the front court.
Jamison-Myers had just 11 points, but she patrolled the floor with a scowl, recording seven blocks and repeatedly altering Goose Creek shots.
“It was heart,” Staley said of his two stars. “Nyilah and Zaria got the game ball, not for points, not for fancy moves, but sheerly for playing with heart, playing defense and getting after every ball.”
The effort of Snipes and Jamison-Myers helped spearhead a defense that allowed just one Goose Creek player, North Carolina commitment N’Dea Bryant, who had 16 points, to score in double figures. Postgame, Goose Creek head coach Tim Baldwin admitted his team struggled to get off clean shots against the bigger Bruinettes.
Despite Goose Creek’s shooting struggles, the Lady Gators did manage one final run in the game, closing to within 34-32 on a jumper by Brendysha Liner with 6:05 to play. Orangeburg-Wilkinson answered back immediately by going down low to Jamison-Myers for a layup that sparked a 10-0 Bruinettes’ run, capped by another Jamison-Myers basket, that gave O-W a 42-32 lead.
Goose Creek never got closer than six points the remainder of the game.
“In the second half, I thought we stepped up to the challenge,” Baldwin said. “But, you know, we pointed out to (the girls) that (O-W) had shots that hit the rim three, four times and fell in. Ours were falling out. That is just the way the ball bounces sometimes. And, toward the end they were knocking down free throws and that is what you do. Here at a championship game or Lower State, you have to knock down the free throws. They did. Give them credit.”
Bruinettes guard Nabresha Hughes scored the final five points of the second quarter to help give the Bruinettes a 16-9 lead at the half. In the game’s low-scoring opening quarter, nearly five minutes ran off the clock before Snipes hit a runner to put O-W up 2-0. Bryant scored her team’s first basket with 2:27 to go in the quarter. Hughes knocked in a shot off the backboard with just seconds to go to give the Bruinettes’ a 4-2 lead going to the second quarter.
“It was a slobber-knocker,” O-W head coach Josh Staley said. “You have got to understand, Goose Creek has been to the state championship the last two years and to Lower State the last four years. They are not going to lay down. Coach Baldwin is one of the best coaches in the state so this game was like the immovable force vs. the unstoppable object.”
Goose Creek ends its season 24-5 overall. Orangeburg-Wilkinson (17-5) advances to the Class 4-A state title game, to be played Friday at 7 p.m. at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, where it will face Dutch Fork, a team that beat them by an average of 35 points during their two regular-season meetings.
“They kicked our butts two times earlier in the season,” Staley said. “No excuses about it. We have to get ready and see what happens next.”
O-W (51) — Zaria Snipes 17, Nyilah Jamison-Myers 11, Hughes 6, Howard 6, Ritter 6, Glover 4, Johnson 1.
GC (43) — N’Dea Bryant 16, Fields 9, Jones 8, Tanner 5, Doctor 3, Liner 2.