AIKEN - Columbia High's slowdown tactics didn't work against Aiken in the second round of the Godfathers Pizza Invitational at Aiken High on Thursday.
Columbia took a 7-2 lead early in the first quarter, then started to melt the clock, much to the disapproval of the home crowd.
But Aiken, which has developed the run-and-gun style under first year coach David Barksdale, was never rattled.
Behind AJ Gordon's 20 points, the Hornets took control and walked away a 45-39 winner over the Capitals. With the win, Aiken advances to tonight's championship game at 8:30 p.m. against the Barnwell-CA Johnson winner.
"I think it was a tribute to our players that they wanted to slow the game down," Aiken coach David Barksdale said. "Columbia has got a great tradition, and that shows a lot of respect for our kids that they didn't want an up tempo game against us. I thought we played well, hustled and stayed within ourselves."
The Hornets came out of the half leading 22-18, but struggled early in the third quarter as the Capitals went on a 10-4 run to take a 28-26 lead after Ja Vaughn Griffin nailed a jumper with 2:49 left in the period.
Griffin, who paced Columbia with 16 points, tacked on two more free throws to push the lead to four points. But two quick 3-pointers by Corey Ready and Kenyatta Smith tied the game back at 32-all before Gordon's layup gave Aiken a two point lead heading into the fourth.
Columbia opened up the final period with another Griffin jumper, tying the contest again at 34. The senior, who hit a bank shot at the buzzer to win the game against Ridge Spring-Monetta in the first round on Wednesday, netted eight straight points for the Capitals at one point.
But Aiken stormed back, getting a 3-pointer from Brandon Simpkins before sealing the game from the free throw line. The Hornets improved to 6-4 and will play in their second holiday tournament championship. They dropped 73-53 to Barnwell in the Warhorse Classic a week ago.
The Lady Hornets' bid for a championship birth was stalled when they couldn't fend off a feisty Sumter team. Sumter used two big runs to take a 52-43 victory to advance to tonight's final at 7 p.m. against the Columbia-Keenan winner.
Aiken led 20-16 at the half, holding Sumter's 6-2 center Tiffani Mayes to just one point. But when the second half started, Mayes got loose, scoring 16 of her game-high 17 points the rest of the way.
Mayes scored eight points out of the half, igniting a 14-0 Sumter run in the third, giving her team a 29-24 advantage after a layup with 1:35 to go. After the Lady Hornets top player, Nola Granted, went out with a twisted ankle with 2:54 left in the third, Aiken watched Sumter build a 34-30 lead.
When the senior forward returned, Aiken fought back and reclaimed the lead after a Kim Justice 3-pointer and two free throws from Ebony Jones gave them a 39-38 lead. Grant scored a layup and caused two turnovers in the run and finished with a team-high 16 points.
But as quick as Aubrey Pompey's group could come back, Sumter had an answer, going on an 8-1 run, highlighted by four points from Mayes, to seal the win. The Lady Hornets (5-3) were looking to blemish Sumter's (11-0) perfect record.
"They did a good job of getting the ball down inside, and the big girl opened it up for them," Pompey said. "We were doing a decent job of keeping her in check, but we got a little lazy and those mistakes will cost you. I'm disappointed because you'd like to play well against the type of teams you're going to see down the road."