CHESTER — A 37-point home loss in the opening round of the Class AAA state playoffs left a bitter taste for the Chester Cyclones, who were overwhelmed 75-38 Monday night by Walhalla.
But instead of hanging their heads in defeat, the Cyclones will take the attitude of learning from the painful experience, especially with the bulk of the roster returning from a second-place region team, which finishes the season at 14-11.
“It was a painful loss, but one which was necessary,” Chester coach Marilyn Milton said of her team’s long-term development. “Last year at this time, we were at home out of the playoffs. This year, we made considerable progress and finished second in our region.
“Tonight, we were never in this position with almost all of these guys having never been in the playoffs. We are losing three seniors, so this should make our returning players better as we look ahead toward next year.”
The Razors, the third seed from Region 1-AAA, took charge from the opening tip with a commanding 25-6 first-quarter lead.
Instead of bracing for a Cyclones comeback, Walhalla continued to build on the early momentum and dominated the second period, 14-2, to put the game out of reach with a 39-8 advantage at the half.
The Razors, 18-7 overall, methodically picked apart the Chester zone defense with torrid perimeter shooting and an effective half-court motion offense, which resulted in several passes to open shooters in the paint for high-percentage points.
Meanwhile, Chester could not buy a basket during the first two quarters, successfully converting only three attempts.
“We came out with 100 percent intensity,” Walhalla coach Natalie Wilkinson said. “We always want to lead with our defense.”
Having taken a lengthy trip from Oconee County, the Razors appeared to never pay attention to being a third seed who were taking on a second seed. In fact, Wilkinson said playing in a tough region prepared her team for this role.
“We play in one of the toughest regions with three teams in the top 10 in the state,” she said. “We see quality competition all the time in our region.”
Milton was quick to give credit to the Razors, describing the first-round opponent as fundamentally sound, well-coached and disciplined on both ends of the court.
“They scored the first six points of the game, and we never were able to regroup from the fast start that they had,” Milton said.
Facing a 31-point halftime deficit, Chester continued to battle, eventually outscoring Walhalla 22-17 in the fourth quarter. Milton said she was pleased her team never threw in the towel.
“We played better the latter part of the contest and that was important. We had two players who we brought up from the junior varsity who got plenty of time in the second half and they did a good job. They, along with the rest of the returning players, will definitely learn from this.”
The Razors were led by senior guard Heather Jankowy, an Anderson College recruit, who netted 25 points. Breandra Richardson and Molly Dixon added to a balanced attack with 13 each.
Junior forward Diamond Simpson led the Cyclones with 18 points.
Walhalla will take another lengthy trip, this time to the Columbia area, to face the winner between Lower Richland and Southside in second-round action Thursday night.
Walhalla-Breandra Richardson 13, Heather Jankowy 25, Abby Coker 2, Molly Dixon 13, Olivia Addis 2, Rachel Garcia 4, Carson Brewer 2, Madison Stroud 1, Monica Winkler 9, Taylor Anderson 4.
Chester- Alexus Young 2, Porcelean Goldsborough 4, Diamond Simpson 18, Stakerra Sanders 2,,Shannon Snelgrove 3, Brownlee McCrorey 9.
3-pointers — Walhalla 2 (Jankowy 2); Chester 1 (Snelgrove 1). Fouled out —Shaterrika Mayfield, Porcelean Goldsborough, Kara White (C). Total fouls — Walhalla 19, Chester 20.
Records: Chester 14-11, Walhalla 18-7.