Lady Seahawks’ lock-down defense nets state semi bid

A.C. Flora missed a couple shots. Then a couple more.

They added a few turnovers.

It was clear that one of the better scoring teams in the state was not having a great offensive night. Myrtle Beach’s defensive was largely responsible for that, and now the Seahawks are headed back to lower state championship game yet again.

Coach Jennifer Dennison’s team defeated the Falcons 51-28 Monday in what was maybe the best defensive effort of a postseason full of them for this team.

“Defense wins games and offense sells tickets. If you play defense, the offense will come,” said Dennison, the Seahawks’ seventh-year head coach. “We were a little shaky in the first half on the offensive end. But we kept playing defense in the second half and we started to play better on offense. But ever since the [start of] the playoffs, the girls have been playing great defense.”

They certainly have.

After giving up 15 and 12 points, respectively, to South Aiken and Hilton Head on the road in the first and second rounds, the 28 didn’t look quite as impressive until you consider the opponent and what it had been doing most of the season. The Falcons entered the night averaging just over 50 points per game and had been held to less than 40 points just four times.

They were led by Class 4A All-State selection McKinley Brooks-Sumpter, who was putting up more than 18 points per game. She finished Monday with just eight.

“That was a key component going into this game,” Myrtle Beach senior Asia Smith said. “We knew if we shut her down that they would have a really hard time scoring. That was our goal.

“Defense is a major part of how we run our offense anyways. We mainly get most of our points in transition. Defensively, we knew that we needed to get stops.”

More often than not, that’s exactly what Myrtle Beach did.

And it wasn’t just against Brooks-Sumpter.

After Flora jumped out to a 10-5 lead with a little over one minute left in the opening quarter, the Falcons went cold. They failed to record a field goal over the ensuing 14-plus minutes. In total, they had just two points off free throws in the second quarter and didn’t get another bucket until there was less than three minutes left in the third.

By the time another would fall — well into the fourth quarter — the Seahawks had opened up a double-digit lead and then cruised with the help of plenty of Flora fouls. In the fourth quarter, Myrtle Beach was 13-of-15 from the free-throw line.

It ignited a small celebration for a team that will now head back to the lower state finals for the fifth time in a decade, more than any other team in Myrtle Beach’s classification over that span. That includes three trips to the state finals (where they won in 2010 and 2011 and lost in 2016), as well as last season’s defeat against Wilson at the Florence Center.

This time, the Seahawks will need every bit of that defense. They’ll be facing North Augusta, a squad that has put up 65 points per game and has yet to lose to an in-state opponent all season after winning the Class 4A championship a year ago.

The Yellow Jackets advanced to Friday’s game with a 66-45 win over Region 6-4A champ Wilson in the third round.

Based on all of that, Myrtle Beach will be considered a heavy underdog by any feasible metric. Then again, the third-seeded Seahawks have already shaken up the lower state bracket and would love to continue to do so.

“We made statements the first two games that we deserved to be here. We made a statement here,” Smith said before moving on to last year’s nine-point loss in the lower state final. “Nobody expected us to get back to this game in the beginning of the season because of all the girls we lost. This is really big for us, especially getting a second chance for us seniors. This time, we’re going to handle business.”

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