BARNWELL, S.C. -- As any first-year coach does, Andy Hallman worried about the players responding to him, especially since he was following in the footsteps of Chip Atkins, who earned more than 500 basketball wins.
Hallman's reservations were erased after he saw his Barnwell team rally around him in the postseason.
The War Horses, 24-7, will play two-time defending state champion Hemingway Friday night at 8:30 in the third round of the Class AA boys tournament at Goose Creek High in Charleston.
"It's hard to follow what Chip has done," Hallman said. "I don't really know what his style of play was, but I know the ultimate goal for any coach is the same, and that's to win. All credit of this season goes to the kids. Anybody can come in with philosophies and Xs and Os, but it won't work unless the kids accept it. They bought into the system, and that's why we've won."
Barnwell opponents have had the misfortune of having to guard a team with four capable guards -- 5-foot-10 Marcus Rivera, 5-8 Orlando Rivera, 6-3 Shaw Bellman and 6-3 Daniel Creech.
Marcus Rivera, a senior all-Region 6-AA pick, leads the team with 16.3 points a game. Orlando, a junior all-region selection, averages 14.7. Bellman, a senior who earned region tournament MVP, has put up 14.3 points a game in only 13 contests. Creech averages 10.3 points.
All four scored in double figures in the War Horses' 63-47 second-round win over Columbia on Tuesday. Creech and Bellman are Hallman's tallest starters, but that hasn't stopped the War Horses from getting physical. Creech snatched 10 rebounds and Bellman eight in the Columbia game.
"All four of those guys have been playing well," Hallman said. "They're the four most athletic guys we have. Marcus is a tremendous leader because of his focus and mentality of how he sees the game. You never have to worry about either of the Rivera brothers not giving everything they have. Daniel is just a seasoned athlete and brings us an emotional leader from playing a big part in football. Shaw is a great leaper, who just has a lot of basketball talent."
Bellman missed most of the season after he broke his left arm over the Christmas break. Orlando Rivera missed four games this year nursing an ankle injury. Creech is the starting quarterback and free safety for the football team and needed time to adjust from a grueling season.
Barnwell started to reach its peak this season in the region tournament when all four were healthy. After finishing third in the regular season, they came back to win four straight in the tourney to gain a No. 1 seed in the state tournament.
The War Horses face a similar Hemingway team tonight. The Tigers are led by sophomore guard Shawn Hayward, but they have been getting four to five players in double figures consistently.
"They're very athletic and very well balanced," Hallman said. "They don't have one guy that is the man for them. We expect full-court, man-to-man pressure in our face all night, and we just have to respond. But we've done it all year. No one would've have looked at this club and thought these kids could have won 24 ballgames."
Reach Patrick Green at (803) 648-1395.