Brandon Crawford Irmo

Irmo clinched a spot in the Class 4A boys state championship with a 54-38 victory over Hartsville in the Lower State championship (pictured: Irmo's Brandon Crawford).

As the final seconds ticked off the Florence Center clock, the Irmo bench stood in unison. The buzzer sounded and the celebration was somewhat subdued as the Yellow Jackets had just clinched a spot in the Class 4A boys state championship with a methodical 54-38 victory over Hartsville in the Lower State championship.

It’s Irmo’s first appearance in the finals since 2018 but it will be the 11th time the Yellow Jackets have made it this far under legendary coach Tim Whipple. He is 5-5 in his previous 10 chances – winning it all in 1991, 1994, 1995, 2011 and 2013. Irmo finished runner-up in 1990, 1992, 1996, 2016 and 2018,

The Yellow Jackets (25-5) face Lancaster, a 58-48 winner over Greenville, in the 4A state championship next Thursday at USC-Aiken at 7 p.m.

“It’s special every single time,” Whipple said. “Even though I’ve been there before, these guys haven’t been there before. It’s special to them, and I’m so happy for them, that their hard work, their dedication down the line has given them an opportunity to be able to play in that (state championship) game.”

It was sweet redemption for last season. Irmo lost to AC Flora in the Upper State title game last season and this team didn’t want to bow out the same way. There was little talk of what happened then but it was always in the back of the mind of the seniors.

“It means a lot when we had a team last year that lost in the semi-finals,” senior Jonathan White said. “We came out strong today and brought that energy and intensity on offense and defense.”

Brandon Crawford, the Class 4A Player of the Year, once again led a balanced attack that saw four players reach double figures. The senior had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds and he added six blocked shots. Madden Collins and Jonathan White each contributed 11 points and five assists while Te’Andre Summons also tallied 11 points. AJ Brand chipped in with seven points.

Irmo shot 46 percent and limited the Red Foxes to just 31 percent.

“We do have four or five different guys who are capable of scoring, and they’ve done a good job of tag-teaming that throughout the year,” Whipple said.

This game followed what has become a typical script the Yellow Jackets have followed under the guidance of Whipple, who has been coach since the 1980’s. There was a short feeling out process for both teams in the beginning and it was a one-point game in the middle of the second quarter.

But Irmo’s defense helped stage an 11-2 run in the closing minutes to give the Yellow Jackets a 28-18 halftime lead.

“It gets redundant after a while, but we struggled offensively and then our defense got us going, got us some good looks, got us the lead and (then) we could be a little more comfortable offensively,” Whipple said.

The closest Hartsville (14-14) could get the rest of the way was seven points, 30-23, early in the third quarter.

In four playoff games, Irmo has won by an average margin of victory of 27.5. They’ve won eight in a run since a mini slump in the regular season when Crawford missed several games due to mononucleosis. Six of those eight wins have come by double digits.

Irmo 54, Hartsville 38

I – Brandon Crawford 12, Jonathan White 11, Madden Collins 11, Te’Andre Summons 11, AJ Brandon 7, Mason Collins 2. H – DeAndre Huggins 15, Xavion Robinson 14, Foman 4, Crawley 3, Brown 2.

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