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Daja Taylor did not wait until the coaches made it to the locker room to deliver a fiery halftime speech. The junior guard for Newberry Academy spoke to her teammates before the coaches even reached the locker room on what needed to be done in the second half of the Class A SCISA state title game against Patrick Henry Academy.
Then, she went out and delivered.
Taylor scored 20 of her game-high 32 points in the second half to lead the Eagles to a 59-53 victory to claim the program’s first title in girls basketball.
“We had to get our stuff together and get rebounds and play how we know to play,” Taylor said. “We’re (23-0) and we weren’t losing now.”
Newberry Academy came in a confident bunch even though they featured only one senior. Most of the players were members of the volleyball team that claimed a state in the fall. When they returned to the floor to watch the Eagles boys team battle for the state title, they sported “Undefeated, State Champion” T-shirts provided by one of the parents.
“This is all about (the team),” Newberry Academy coach Barry Kesler said. “It’s unbelievable. These kids have talked about this since they were in the fifth grade. It means a lot to us. We had a couple of shutdowns at school (due to Covid), so that makes it a little sweeter.”
The contest lived up to the pregame hype in a battle of unbeaten teams. The biggest lead by either team was seven points and featured 14 lead changes and three ties.
A sequence early in the fourth quarter allowed Newberry Academy (24-0) to take control for good. Taylor started it with a 3-pointer that broke a 46-46 tie. After Patrick Henry missed four shots on one possession, Madison Rivers added a 3-pointer to make it 52-46 with 5:44 remaining.
It was a lead the Eagles would not relinquish.
Patrick Henry (18-1) pulled back within 55-53 with 1:21 remaining before Taylor delivered the dagger. She hit a step-back 3-pointer with 1:04 left too push the lead back to 58-53. The Eagles added a free throw from Kailey Cheeks with 18 seconds remaining before the celebration erupted at mid-court.
“Big-time players step up in big times and I’m just a big-time player, so I had to get my team together and win a state championship,” Taylor said. “It means everything. I’ve been dreaming of this my whole life.”
Cheeks added 15 points for the Eagles. Harper Rice scored 23 points for Patrick Henry.
On the boys side of things, the result did not favor Newberry Academy. Anderson Christian defeated the Eagles for the third time this season, this time a xx-xx decision, to claim the Class A boys SCISA state title.
The Lions won the previous two meetings by scores of 80-37 and 66-40. It was much of the same Friday night. Anderson Christian had a 21-7 lead at the end of the first quarter and never looked back. The lead never dipped below single digits the rest of the way.
Bray Greer led five Anderson Christian (18-5) players in double figures with 18 points. Payton Gardner scored 33 to pace Newberry Academy (14-4).
Newberry Academy 59, Patrick Henry Academy 53
NA – Daja Taylor 32, Kailey Cheeks 15, Caroline Senn 5, London Huggins 3, Madison Rivers 3, Allison Joyner 1. PH – Harper Rice 23, Saniah Sexton 16, Logan Cone 12, Wiggins 2.
Anderson Christian 79, Newberry Academy 61
AC – Bray Greer 18, Xavier Thornton 16, Mark Jackson 14, Braxton Allman 14, Myles Ulmer 11, Brown 6. NA – Payton Gardner 33, Anthony McLean 17, Brown 5, Buford 4, Lindsey 2.