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INDIAN LAND – For Indian Land High School sophomore player Marty Cauthen, as the familiar line goes, practice makes perfect.
Cauthen was flawless in the clutch for his only points in the Warriors’ thrilling 61-58 win over Eau Claire in the Class AA Upper State semifinals at the rocking IL gym on Wednesday night.
“I just let it flow, just like in practice,” said Cauthen of his pressure-packed pair. “I make them in practice and I just imagined it was practice.”
Cauthen calmly dropped in a pair of clutch free throws with 7.2 seconds to play to lift IL to the three-point win and a bid opposite defending Class AA state champion Keenan at the Bi-Lo Center on Saturday afternoon at 4:30.
Keenan, 23-3, punched its ticket to the Greenville arena with a 62-49 win over Lee Central on Wednesday night in Columbia.
“That’s the last thing we do in practice – shoot free throws,” IL coach Nate Smith said. “I was proud of Marty. He stepped up and knocked them down. I told them in the huddle before he went to the line that big-time players step up in big-time situations.”
The Warriors, holding a 34-19 halftime lead, seemed to have the game in control, but the determined Shamrocks made a torrid comeback to make it a nail-biter at the end.
Marquis Lykes, who led the Rocks with 21, keyed the EC rally with 13 second-half points.
The Shamrocks, with a 15-6 surge, sliced the Warriors’ 15-point halftime lead to six, 40-34 after three periods.
“We came back and played to the end,” EC coach Lamont Britt said. “I was proud of our guys.”
Lykes netted 10 points in the final period to pull the Rocks closer in the closing moments.
The Warriors, who hit 14 of 17 free throws in the final quarter, were able to keep the lead, but Eau Claire closed hard.
IL junior ace Terrell Rodgers drilled two free throws with 1:20 left for a 57-50 lead.
EC’s Jordan Stuckey hit five straight points, including a trey, to cut the IL lead to 57-55.
A Donnell Rodgers free throw put IL ahead by three, 58-55 with 29.3 seconds. EC’s Lykes hit one of two free throws to make it a two-point game, 58-56.
Terrell Rodgers, who netted nine of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter, dropped in one of two at the line with 22.1 seconds left to give IL a 59-56 edge. Ronnie Greer’s bucket with 13.7 seconds to play pulled the Rocks within one, 59-58.
Cauthen was then fouled with 7.2 to play and stepped to the line and hit a crucial pair – his only points of the game – for a 61-58 Warriors’ lead.
“That’s something you dream about and he made it a reality tonight,” Smith said.
The Rocks still had a final shot to at least force overtime, but a trey rimmed out and a wild scramble for the ball ensued and EC’s time ran out to keep IL’s hopes alive.
“We knew Eau Claire was a second-half team and they double-teamed Terrell and took us out of our rhythm in the second half, but we held our composure and then Marty hit two pressure-packed free throws,” Smith said.
Indian Land started strong, as Terrell Rodgers hit 14 of his game-high 29 points in the first half, sparking the Warriors to a 34-19 halftime edge.
Hayden Sawyer tallied all of his 13 points in the first half to aid IL early in taking a 22-8 first quarter lead.
Donnell Rodgers hit eight and Jarrell Robinson added six points to go along with two huge taken charges in the final period to negate EC buckets. McGriff had three and Cauthen added his clutch pair.
EC, which finished 17-8, was led by Lukes’ 21. Ronnie Greer hit nine, while Marquise Jones and Dontell Riley added eight each for the Shamrocks.