CHESTER — In a defensive battle that came down to the final second, the Union County girls basketball team emerged from Chester with a 33-31 win and a new region ranking.
The Jackets’ only region loss came by way of the Cyclones just three weeks ago and on Tuesday night Union County returned the favor. The result is a tie between the two for No. 1 in Region III-AAA.
The Cyclones held a normally high scoring Jackets team to 15 points in the first half. Tied at 13-13 with four minutes to go in the second quarter Union County went cold. Chester scored the next eight points before CeCe Moorman pulled down an offensive board and her put-back at the buzzer ended the Cyclones run and the half, at 23-15.
“They were down a little bit after that second quarter,” said Union County Head Coach Angela Burke. “When we got into the locker room one of the players said, ‘What’s everybody down for? We’ve still got two quarters to play!’ That pumped them back up and they went back out there and really turned up the defense.”
The Jackets opened the third period with an effective full court press that forced turnover after turnover. Union County capitalized with an 8-0 run of their own to close the margin to two. Chester scratched a point across with a free throw but Mari Eison drained a three-pointer from the left wing to claim a 26-24 Union County lead. Both teams added a basket apiece in the final 30 seconds to end the third frame, 28-26.
The fourth quarter started on a 2:30 scoring drought before a Chester put-back off an offensive rebound tied things up at 28-28. The Cyclones took a one-point lead midway through the period but the Jackets evened things back up at the line when Eison hit a free throw. Chester broke the Union County press and laid up an easy shot under the basket on the following play. With just over a minute left in regulation, Dexlie Inman picked off a pass and relayed it to Moorman at the other end for the tying shot. A Cyclones turnover put the ball back in the hands of senior point guard Kristin Giles who found Clarissa Hughes in the paint for a contested jumper. With time running out, Chester put up a frantic shot that was way off the mark and the Lady Jackets began their celebration in the middle of the home team’s gym.
“Defense won that game,” said Burke. “The game plan was for Shouda (Stevens) to press their point guard but when she got hurt in the first half, we had to ask our freshman, Dexlie Inman, to come in and do something she wasn’t used to. In the second half, we said, ‘Okay, you’ve gotta step it up.’ And she really did. She made it hard for their point guard to run the offense.”
With two games left in region play, the Yellow Jackets are positioned for a tie-breaker before post-season to determine who will enter as the No. 1 seed.
While Burke and the Jackets took a minute to bask in the glory of Tuesday night’s win, it was back to work on Wednesday.
“I always say we have to win one game at a time,” said Burke. “So now we prepare for Woodruff, then we prepare for Clinton and after that we prepare for the tie-breaker with Chester.”
Moorman paced Union County with 16 points. Eison and Giles contributed six apiece.
In Boys Action: Chester had its way with Union County on Tuesday night and took a 95-47 win. The Jackets trailed 45-24 at intermission and the Cylcones went on a 15-5 run to open the second half. Tre Eison hit a baseline jumper and Quan Hardy scored on a put back midway through the third period but the Cyclones were clearly in control and led 74-41 heading into the fourth.
Union County Head Coach Will Hickson cleared his bench more than once in the final period but could find no answers for the hot handed Cyclones who finished the evening with five players in double digits.
Keiston Smith led the Jackets with 12 points and T.J. Foster added nine.
“We could slow them down but we couldn’t stop them,” said Hickson. “We worked on the press break for about two hours yesterday but we can’t get it past half court sometimes. We’ve got to get better and we have two games left to do it.”