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Jackets move on

Chalmers Rogers dunks in the fourth period of the Class AAAA Upper State championship game in Greenville.
Chalmers Rogers dunks in the fourth period of the Class AAAA Upper State championship game in Greenville.

GREENVILLE -- Pass. Swing the ball outside, pass and look again. If there's a high-percentage shot, take it. If not, pull it back outside and start over.

That's the extent of Fort Mill's offense in the Yellow Jackets' 51-41 win over Easley, ranked No. 1 by the S.C. Basketball Coaches Association, on Friday night at Greenville's Bi-Lo Center.

Don't knock it.

It's the same formula that got the Yellow Jackets to Friday's Upper State championship game. It's the same way they'll play when they face the winner of tonight's Summerville-Hartsville game in the state championship game next Friday at the Colonial Center in Columbia.

The Yellow Jackets (24-4) last played for the championship in 1975 and lost to Matthews. In 1974, they beat Edisto for the title.

But none of this year's players are concerned with the past. Their focus is the future and reaching their goal of winning it all.

"We beat a very good team that was very athletic,'' Fort Mill coach Bailey Jackson said. "We saw on video that they liked to play a two-three zone. We pulled them out of it and made them play man-to-man.

"We had some big shots tonight, but the run in the third quarter was the difference.''

The run actually started in the third quarter and spilled over into the fourth. It allowed Fort Mill to take control and make Easley chase its three talented guards.

The score was tied at 27 when the momentum swung Fort Mill's way.

Will Johnson came down and nailed a 3-pointer, putting the Yellow Jackets up by three.

Easley's Chris Tally pulled the Green Wave to within a point, with no clue that it would be his team's last basket until 3:32 left in the game.

The run started when Fort Mill's 6-foot-7 junior center Chalmers Rogers scored the final basket of the period, a spinning layup in front of the rim.

Johnson drilled another 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter, followed by a driving layup from Jon Kawakami. On the next trip down, Paress Barker fired a perfect no-look pass to Rogers on the left baseline, and he brought the Yellow Jackets' fans to their feet with a thunderous dunk.

The 10-point run ended on Fernando Soto's only basket of the game. It didn't go in, but would have if Easley's Mike Jenkins hadn't been called for goaltending after pinning the ball on the backboard.

Soto's basket put Fort Mill ahead 41-9, a margin that allowed them to slow the pace and force Easley to foul.

Johnson, Barker and Kawakami, Fort Mill's guards, did an outstanding job playing keep-away with 3:48 remaining.

The Yellow Jackets didn't score another basket. Their final 10 points came from the free throw line -- three from Kawakami and Barker and two each by Johnson and Rogers.

"I think we tired them out making them chase us all night, but I think a big difference was they weren't that deep,'' Johnson said. "We had a good defensive scheme, went in wanting to stop their big guy (Jenkins) and number 11 (Tahj Tate).''

Both are all-state players and Jenkins was named Class AAAA's Player of the Year. Tate had 12 points. Jenkins was held to three.

"We just didn't come out with our A game, and the best team won tonight.'' Jenkins said. "They wanted it more than we did.

" I believed that we were gonna be down in Columbia Friday, and they came in and played better than us.''

Barker got the Yellow Jackets started in the opening quarter. He began the game with a 3-pointer and scored on a jumper from the lane that gave Fort Mill a 5-2 lead on its way to a 10-8 advantage after the first eight minutes.

Late in the second quarter, the Yellow Jackets went up 20-16 on a basket from Rogers. But with the clock nearing its end, Easley's Chris Talley beat the buzzer with a long 3-three pointer and the Green Wave (25-3) went into the break trailing 20-19.

"We look to get the ball to anybody that's open,'' Barker said. "I was hot early, which worked out for me and opened it up for my teammates. Will got hot in the third quarter.

"We hit some big shots at the right times. We hit big shots that won the game for us.''

Johnson scored eight points in the third period, two coming behind then 3-point arc.

"All three of our guards can handle the ball,'' Jackson said. " We made free throws, shot the ball well and ran our sets. Our seniors have worked four year to get to this point.''