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GREENVILLE – Andrew Jackson, for the large part, has hitched its impressive playoff run to senior guard Dareisha Sowell and she’s responded in thoroughbred fashion.
Sowell, who has scored 119 points in the Lady Volunteers’ four-game postseason charge – a 29.7 average over the sterling stretch – triggered the Lady Vols in clinching the Class AA Upper State championship and a coveted bid in the Class AA state championship.
Sowell’s 40 points – her top showing in AJ’s playoff charge – lifted the Lady Vols to a 62-48 win over Newberry on Saturday, March 1 at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville.
“Dareisha has stepped up her game to an unbelievable level,” Andrew Jackson High girls coach Dennis Farmer said. “She has put us on her back and we rode her.”
The AJ girls, 23-3, will face Bishop England of Charleston for the Class AA girls state basketball crown on Saturday, March 8 at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia at 2 p.m.
Bishop England, 26-1, rolled to the Class AA Lowcountry crown with a 68-53 win over previously unbeaten Dillon.
Andrew Jackson was also solid in earning the Class AA Upstate title and a bid to the state championship game.
Sowell hit 10 points in the opening half, helping the Lady Vols to a 20-all tie with the stubborn Lady Bulldogs at the break.
The game stayed tight into the second half when AJ made a key run to set the stage for its strong finish behind Sowell’s play.
AJ’s Elizabeth Scott had an alert put-back off an air ball and senior McKenzie Horton, who made some key hoops, each scored to give the Lady Vols a 41-35 edge after three periods.
“We settled down in the second half and made plays,” Farmer noted. “We had that little run at the end of the third quarter and it sparked us. We wanted to hit free throws and build up our lead.”
Sowell, penetrating the Lady Bulldogs’ defense, did her part, hitting 18 of her 30 second-half points in the final period to power AJ’s pivotal run. She also hit 18 of 20 foul shots for the game.
Sowell scored six straight points to extend the Lady Vols’ lead to 47-38 and AJ began to take control.
Newberry wouldn’t wilt and trailed 50-42, but then Andrew Jackson used a huge 6-0 run – five points from Sowell – to take a commanding 56-42 lead with 1:55 to play.
“Sowell got on a roll,” Newberry coach Melissa Mendenhall said. “She did an excellent job for them.”
Sowell said it was a matter of taking what was given her.
“Newberry’s defense had a lot of holes and I was able to penetrate and get easy shots,” she said. “I attacked the holes in their defense and it came up big for me.”
Scott noted Sowell responded well.
“It was a great time to step up,” Scott said. “She’s been working hard and she deserves a game like this. They couldn’t stop her and she hit the gaps.”
Sowell’s 40 led the Lady Vols, with Scott hitting 10 and Horton scoring eight.
Brantley Ussery and Jerrisha Crawford had two points each.
Tyshyria Bates led NHS, which finished 18-10, with 14, nine in the second half.
Arnasia Boyd netted nine. Nigeria Davis and Kelsey Felks each had seven. Fatima Sims scored six and Octavia Grandy-Goodman added five.
“We have experienced girls and we kept playing no matter what the score was,” Farmer said. “We finished the game.
“That’s what we’ve stressed and that’s what we did,” he said.