AIKEN - A Saturday morning practice helped Hephzibah find its rhythm.
Sophomore sensation LeCoe Willingham scored 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting as Hephzibah whipped Aiken 68-50 in the girls championship game of the Twin States Holiday Invitational Tournament.
Surprisingly, Willingham was not on the All-Tournament team. The team consisted of Rebel players Joanne Aluka and Brandi Hicks; Aiken's Nicole Miles and Nikki Moss; Westside's Brandi Robertson and Richland Northeast's April Thames.
Aluka was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, getting 26 points and 25 rebounds in two games, including 12 points and 12 rebounds in the finals.
"I had no idea I was going to get it," said Aluka of the Most Valuable Player award.
Willingham was not upset with not being named to the All-Tournament team. She had 10 points and four rebounds in a win over Westside on Friday.
"I don't need a trophy to verify that I played good," Willingham said. "I know in my heart that I played good to help the team win."
Hicks, who scored 17 points, said the team did not think about avenging last season's loss. Aiken defeated Hephzibah 36-33 for last season's crown.
"It's just nice to win a tournament," Hicks said. "It seems like since I've been here we've been runer-ups in every tournament we've been in. We were runner-ups in the (Class AAA) state (finals)."
Aiken coach Aubrey Pompey said his team couldn't have played any better competition than Hepzibah, Butler and Richmond Academy to get ready for the Region 3-AAAA schedule. Aiken (3-6) has lost a combined five games to those schools, including three losses to Butler.
"Orangeburg-Wilkinson (Region 3-AAAA favorite) might be as good but they can't be better," Pompey said. "They're all solid teams."
Brandi Robertson and Katie Lawrence scored 14 points apiece as Westside (6-2) routed South Carolina Class AAAA power Richland Northeast 59-27 in the girls third-place game.
Angela Griffin added 13 points for the Patriots.
Westside led 15-4 after one period and 27-4 with 3:37 remaining in the first half and were never seriously challenged.
"Last night (Friday), we didn't get the little things done," Patriots coach Bill Richey said. "Tonight, we did. This was a big game for us. We turned the corner."
Richey said his Patriots saw this game as a challenge after Richland Northeast nearly rallied from a 29-point deficit before losing to Aiken, 48-43. Richland Northeast lost to Region 3-AAAA favorite Orangeburg-Wilkinson by 42 points but won the rematch encounter. Aien is the defending Region 3-AAAA champion.
"The girls saw it as a challenge," Richey said. "They were not going to be knocked down or intidimated."
HEPHZIBAH (68)-Brandi Hicks 17, Joanne Aluka 12, LeCoe Willingham 24, Deyanna Little 2, Shontae Bethel 0, Candice Zelars 7, Jennifer East 0, Shomika Sheriffe 2, April Clyburn 4. Totals 27 10-16 68.
Hephzibah9 23 16 20-68
Aiken6 10 11 23-50
3-point goals: Hicks 2, Zellars Records: Hephzibah 11-2, Aiken 3-6. Next: Evans at Hephzibah, Jan. 7, 5 p.m. Greenwood at Aiken, Jan. 7, 6:30 p.m.
LINCOLN COUNTY (74)-Eldridge Wynn 21, Troy Albea 4, Antonio Henderson 22, Patrick Davis 13, Dant Danner 2, Rod Bussey 2, Troy Brown 4, Shedrick Wynn 6. Totals 31 7-12 74.
AIKEN (79)-Vic Fuewell 7, Lamont Scurry 13, Ronald Corley 4, Steven Holmes 7, Brandon Dean 6, Raymond Oakman 6, Wendell Blocker 16, Myron Talbert 20. Totals 29 19-30 79.
Lincoln County 17 21 20 16-74
Aiken17 22 22 18-79
3-point goals: Wynn 2, Henderson 2, Scurry, Holmes. Records: Lincoln County 1-2, Aiken 2-4.
WESTSIDE (59)-Leslie Carroll 5, Amanda Ellington 2, Katie Lawrence 14, Lisa Thacker 4, Brandi Robertson 14, Vicki Page 4, Angela Griffin 13, Cassie Mercer 3. Totals 21 12-21 59.
RICHLAND NORTHEAST (27)-Courtney Brown 2, Vanessa Davis 3, Lindsay Holmes 2, Lena McCloud 3, Christy Myers 3, April Thames 12, Latoya Thomas 2. Totals 10 5-13 27.
Westside15 17 16 11-59
Richland Northeast4 5 8 10-27
3-point goals: Robertson 3, Lawrence 2, Myers, Thames. Records: Westside 6-2, Richland Northeast 4-6. Next: Swainsboro at Westside, Jan. 7, 5:30 p.m.