CLOVER — Sherer Hopkins, head girls basketball coach at Clover High School, knew there would be positions to fill when the season began.
Among the key players missing from last year’s unbeaten region championship team was go-to scoring leader Bria Huffman, an all-state selection who has taken her game to the college level.
Another key element to last year’s team, Gadson Lefft, a solid post player, transferred to a nationally-renowned private school.
Senior floor leader Logan Ballard was also among the missing in action when the 2012-13 high school basketball season began.
Though disappointed in the narrow opening-round playoff loss to visiting Mauldin, Hopkins lauded the Lady Blue Eagles for an 18-win season and a No. 2 seed in the state 4A playoffs.
“Our kids exceeded expectations,” Hopkins said after the game. “I am proud of the players. They compete together and that’s what it’s all about.”
The 35-32 loss to Mauldin in the first-round playoff game was a down-to-the-wire nail-biter.
The game was closely-contested throughout, with the CHS girls building an 8-6 first-quarter lead.
After Mauldin scored the game’s first basket, 5-foot-9 guard/forward Ryehia Robbins’ 3-pointer pushed Clover ahead 3-2.
The lead seesawed in the first quarter, as it did throughout the game, with senior mainstay Lauren Richardson’s basket moving the Lady Blue Eagles ahead 5-4.
Once again, Mauldin grabbed the lead at 6-5. Sophomore forward Elizabeth Edmunds, Clover’s leading scorer for the season, converted a free throw, knotting the score at 6-all.
Sophomore guard Maggie Ballard scored moments before the first quarter ended, staking the Clover girls to a hard-fought 8-6 lead.
The second quarter was much of the same as the teams traded baskets, with Mauldin maintaining a slight advantage for much of the quarter.
After the Lady Mavericks had built a 14-10 lead, Edmunds scored on a sweeping reverse layup, slicing the lead to two.
Mauldin answered, moving ahead 16-13 until a late basket by (you guessed it) Edmunds ended the half with the visitors from Greenville County clinging to a 16-15 lead.
Mauldin scored the first five points of the third quarter, and suddenly, the Mavericks were head 21-15.
But the Clover contingent would have none of that as Robbins canned a 3-pointer and Edmunds scored, leaving Mauldin up 25-23.
A pair of free throws by Richardson tied the game at 23-all.
Edmunds ignited the home crowd with a basket that pushed Clover ahead 25-23. Later, with the score knotted once again, this time at 25-all, senior playmaking guard Alexis Brice drove the lane and the Blue Eagles were up 27-25 as the third quarter concluded.
Robbins continued to make her presence felt, scoring on a put-back to start the fourth quarter.
Later in the quarter, a basket by senior floor leader Aaliyah Knox put Clover ahead 31-29 with 1:57 showing on the scoreboard clock. Knox added a free throw moments later, pushing the lead to 32-29.
But Mauldin scored six unanswered points to end the game with the three-point playoff win.
“Mauldin played good defense,” Hopkins said of the Lady Mavericks’ upset playoff win. “You expect good defense in playoff competition.”
Hopkins noted the Lady Blue Eagles were in a position to win but were unable to finish.
“Elizabeth had another good game on offense for us,” she concluded.
A season-ending loss, yet the Lady Blue Eagles won 18 games and finished second in the always-tough Region 3-AAAA.
Reason aplenty for Hopkins to laud the players, especially the senior team members, for a job well done and reload for next season.