COLUMBIA — It was a scene befitting the cover of a Wheaties cereal box.
Whale Branch had just missed its last shot of a 64-54 loss to Lewisville in the Class A state championship game on Saturday at the Colonial Life Center and over in the right corner, the smallest player on the court, Lewisvilles 5-foot guard Mardarius Bailey cradled the ball as the buzzer sounded.
Lewisville, which finished at 21-7, has just 10 players and doesnt have a star system. But if there had been a vote for the game ball, it would have gone to Bailey, who appeared to be everywhere on the court from the opening tap.
It was the Lions first state championship since 1975-76 season when Doug Harrison, whose voice can still be heard bouncing in the rafters at Lewisville today: Shoot the ball, Dye, hed scream at 6-foot-6 center Tracy Dye, his star who would rather pass to an open teammate or destroy opponents on the boards.
No Dye on this team. Just a group of players who punch in and play as a team.
On this cold day in Columbia, Lewisville needed a star against deep and talented Whale Branch, which finished 24-4. The Warriors were determined to run the Lions till they dropped. Didnt happen. Bailey could have played all day.
Bailey hit 5-of-12 shots from the field, both of his free throws, and a pair of key three pointers. He also played a hand in several transition baskets off six steals that turned into easy baskets.
When the Lions decided to slow it down and make the Warriors chase to catch up in the fourth quarter, guess who had the first option to handle the ball? Bailey, of course.
I felt good about my shot today, but it was easy because we work the ball until there was an open shot, Bailey said. It could have been anybody on our team. We all shoot well and well get our points. There are no stars on this team. Thats one of the reasons we keep winning and keep the game fun.
Just as Lewisville coach Larry Davis accepted the championship trophy with his player at midcourt, they rushed the section when the Lions fans sat. Davis held the trophy in the air for them to see. Several fans touched it. Several players jumped into the stands to share hugs.
It was not an easy game, Davis said. The Warriors are a no-holds-barred, run-and-gun team. Heading into the latter stages of the second quarter, they used a double-team trap defense to take Lewisville out of its game.
The score was knotted at 13 going into the second quarter, but the trap defense took the Warriors on a 7-point run that ended with Whale Branch leading 20-13 on a short jumper by Chavonne Simmons.
Early in the second half Lewisvilles Shakale Worthy made a steal and scored to tie the game at 29. Qua Walls nailed a 3-pointer and Worthy drained a pair from the line to put the Lions ahead for good 34-29. Worthy led Lewisville with 17.
Whale Branchs plan to tire out the Lions worked, but in reverse. Lewisvilles starters rarely come out for long, and it was the Lions who looked fresh instead of the Warriors, who were leaning over and pulling down on the legs of their shorts.
Another Lion who had that star look was center Cody Montgomery, a 6-4 freshman who played a quiet game that produced loud results.
He scored 12 points, was 3-for-3 from the foul line, added a steal, and had six rebounds. What didnt show was most times, the Warriors were unable to throw the ball over him to teammates open inside. Coach Davis preaches that we have to block out and prevent second chance baskets, Montgomery said. I was taller and they seemed intimidated. I would never hurt another player on purpose, but I might have thrown a couple of elbows to get my point across.
For Davis, it was a homecoming he never expected. After playing in college at USC as part of a three-guard system that included South Pointe basketball coach Melvin Watkins and BJ McKie, an assistant at Charleston Southern University, Davis didnt consider coaching until getting a call from Lewisville last year.
Its been one of the most rewarding things Ive ever done, Davis said. The Lewisville community has became a big part of my life and today was one of the biggest days of my basketball career.
Melvin sent me a text while were on the bus here to wish us well. Im sure he was here. BJs team had a game today, but Ill hear from him. To come here, to coach a team to the state championship in the place where I learned the game and developed my character ... cant get much better than this.