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Ric Flair, the pro wrestler known as the “Nature Boy,” wasn’t in the Lancaster High School gym on Saturday afternoon, but his familiar catchphrase would have been fitting for the highly anticipated hoops occasion.
The ever-popular Flair, had he been in the Bruins’ Den, might have had a tough time even finding a seat since the place was packed for a Class AAAA top five meeting between the host Bruins and elite Indians.
GHS, 14-0 as the defending Class AAAA state champion, entered at No. 1, while LHS has been ranked as high as No. 5 in the Class AAAA state poll this season.
Gaffney, a longtime state football power, is now as much a force in state basketball circles. GHS, in the last eight seasons, has played for the state championship five times, with four state crowns.
Lancaster High, under coach Ricardo Priester, is a program on the rise, with two straight postseason bids and a region title last winter. So the clash with the talented Indians was a chance to gain some recognition and get an early step-up in the region opener.
As Flair would say, “To be the Man, you gotta beat the man!”
It wasn’t wrestling, but even Flair would have been impressed. Like a pair of hardwood heavyweights, the Indians and Bruins battled tooth and nail. Try nine ties and 22 lead changes.
“Both teams played hard,” GHS coach Mark Huff said. “There was a tremendous atmosphere.”
Among the throng was first-year Clemson coach Brad Brownell, who was on hand to see some of the state’s top hoops talent in Bruins’ senior Ron Trapps and sophomore sensation Sindarius Thornwell along with Gaffney stars L.J. Peak and Quinshad Davis.
The ebb and flow of a region donnybrook promised it would go down to the wire and the first team to make a key run would likely have the edge at the final buzzer.
Gaffney, trailing by one at the half – 36-35, rallied to take a 50-48 lead with a period to play. GHS held a 53-50 edge early in the final quarter, but Bruins guard Alan Robinson, who netted eight, drained a key corner trey.
That was the spark as the Robinson three ignited a 12-1 run for a 62-54 LHS spread with 2:40 to play. A key sequence came with LHS up 57-54, and Thornwell gliding in for a breakaway bucket. On the way to the basket, GHS’s Willie Smith gave him a push to draw an intentional foul.
Thornwell’s hoop with the harm put the Bruins up 59-54, and he added one of two foul shots for a six-point spread. The deliberate foul gave LHS the ball and the Bruins cashed in on the possession as Forrest Woodard added two more free throws for a 62-54 lead. Those free throws were crucial as they all were for the game. The Bruins netted 18-24 at the line, while the Indians struggled at the stripe, 10 of 24.
Thornwell, who hit 21 to go with eight assists, three blocks and six boards, said he knew the late cushion was key, but the Bruins weren’t out of the woods yet.
“It was a turning point for us, but we still had to play,” he said.
The battled-tested Indians weren’t going to leave without a tussle as they
charged hard to chop the LHS lead to 64-62, but then Trapps, playing like a veteran, hit a bucket and added a free throw to seal it.
“I knew we were going to win because we were prepared for them,” said
Trapps, who scored 22 to go with nine rebounds. “This feels good. All we’ve worked for is paying off.”
All, for Priester, is the entire LHS team.
“Our defense was outstanding and our offense was efficient as we
distributed the ball well,” he said. “I was proud of our bench because
they stepped up well. They gave us a big lift.”
Priester said the victory was achieved beyond the bench.
“Our fans were the sixth man for four quarters,” Priester said. “Our fans
made for a great environment.”
Priester views Gaffney, which he calls “a state championship program,” as
where he wants to take the Bruins.
“We want to be there and today we took a step in that direction,” he said.
Trapps said the Bruins must build off the major win, one which will draw
statewide recognition and the best of future foes.
“We have to come to play like that every game,” he said. “Now we have a
target on our back. Everybody is going to be coming at us like we came at
There’s plenty of basketball to be played, but not doubt the Bruins are
off to an impressive start.
In the words of Flair again – “Woooooo!”