AIKEN -- Hephzibah has all the necessary components for a championship team. All that's required are frequent tests to keep the Lady Rebels focused.
Eau Claire presented coach Wendell Lofton's team its third opportunity to showcase its dominance. Chalk up another A+ for the Lady Rebels, who squashed the Lady Shamrocks (9-3) 67-52 in the girls championship game on Wednesday at the Twin States Holiday Invitational held at Aiken High School.
LeCoe Willingham turned in her third consecutive double-double performance in the tournament. The Auburn signee took control of the game in the closing minutes of the opening half.
Willingham scored six of her 21 first-half points in the last three minutes of the second quarter to help Hephzibah (12-0) turn a 26-25 deficit into a 33-28 halftime lead.
"She made up her mind that we're not letting those girls take it from us," Lofton said. "This game is really our third game. Games against Tri-City, Orangeburg-Wilkinson and tonight's game will help us down the stretch."
Tamara Gilyard added 12 points, six assists and two steals as the Lady Rebels once again controlled the boards. The South Carolina Class AAA 1997 runner-ups couldn't knock Gilyard, April Clyburn or Willingham off the blocks and suffered the same fate as the two previous "tests" Hephzibah has passed in preparation for a title run.
Willingham's 33 points against Eau Claire pushed her tournament average to 21 points. She also averaged 11 rebounds during the three-day dual state tournament.
"We needed leadership on the court and I had to get my team into gear," Willingham said. "Every game we want to play our best and come out with a lot of intensity no matter who we play."
Butler's boys successfully defended their 1997 championship by nipping Richland Northeast 48-46 in the final game of the tournament. Dwayne Davis hit the game-winning bucket with :06 remaining in the contest.
A brief scrum, complete with bodies flying all over the hardwood going for a loose ball, resulted in the ball falling into Davis' hands directly under the hoop. A slight kiss off the glass and a Bulldog (9-1) victory was ensured.
"I didn't think it was coming to me," Davis said. "It came down to the last possession. I figured it would."
The Cavaliers (10-2) and Bulldogs swapped the lead six times in the final quarter. Ronald Johnson paced Butler with 11 points while Thomas Mims added 10.
Brandon Moses dominated in Aiken's 66-54 victory over Richmond Academy in the boys' B Bracket Championship. The 6-foot-4 junior finished with 36 points on 10-of-16 shooting and connected on 15 of his 17 free-throw attempts.
The Aiken swingman took Tuesday's loss to Richland Northeast personally. He channelled his frustration into powerful post play, pulling down 19 rebounds and displaying aggression he lacked in Tuesday's defeat.
"I wanted to make sure we got on the boards (Wednesday)," Moses said. "I played my game the way I knew I could. I didn't play well (Tuesday)."
The Hornets (7-4) used a 10-1 run with less than four minutes remaining in the game to edge the Musketeers (4-4). Dwayne Jones scored six points, dished out seven assists and made seven steals as Moses' aggressive nature spread amongst the Hornets.
Corey Ready added 11 points for Aiken, including a three-pointer, to help extend the Musketeer defense. With Ready and Jones hot on the outside, ARC couldn't collapse on Moses who then dominated inside. Moses felt redemption after a disappointing game earlier in the tournament.
"I don't have to challenge Brandon," Hornets coach Pat Keating said. "He really stepped up and challenged himself. It's him maturing as a young man."
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