Gray Collegiate girls basketball state champions

History stamped.

For the first time in school history, the Gray Collegiate girls basketball team added to the War Eagles growing athletic trophy case.

Jordan Mintz and Miliyiah Mason each scored 11 points and Gray Collegiate withstood a fourth quarter rally to hold off Bishop England 40-32 in the Class 2A state championship Friday evening at USC-Aiken’s Convocation Center.

“For a first-year head coach, it’s a coach’s dream,” War Eagles Coach Brandon Wallace said. “Obviously, you get a job, you want to build a program, one that competes for state championships. These girls believed in it, they trusted the process and it ended up working out for us.”

Gray Collegiate (22-6) started the season ranked but continuously built on that and by the end, they can call themselves No. 1. Mason said the belief that this team could do something special started in early January when region play began.

They lost to Keenan twice in region play but closed out the season by winning 10 in a row, including a victory over the Raiders last weekend in the Upper State championship. Nine of the 10 wins came by double digits.

“I didn’t think we would be here. Us picking up little pieces and putting it together (helped). Coach Wallace coming in and being a good role model for us, figuring out our strengths and weaknesses and figuring out what's best for us, it feels good to get here and say we are champions,” Mason said.

“Region play, I felt like everybody stepped up. Everybody played their role and going down the stretch, we realized we’re here. We came together, figured it out and look where we are now.”   

Wallace, a former standout at South Carolina, made a bit of history himself. The Edgefield native won a state championship as a player at Silver Bluff (2003), as an assistant coach with the Gray Collegiate boys and now as a head coach with the War Eagles girls.

As the final seconds ticked off, Wallace looked to his family in the crowd, waved, smiled and thought about his career coming full circle.

“I had my wife, my boys, my dad, my older brother Maurice from Georgia (here),” Wallace said. “I was trying to make contact with them. I appreciate all the support they have given me through my playing career, playing overseas and now being a coach. It means a lot.”

Gray Collegiate had to withstand a second half rally from the Bishops (19-12). The War Eagles led 22-11 at the half but thanks to the play of Izzy Woods, who scored all 11 of her points in the second half, Bishop England pulled within 25-21 to start the final quarter. It stayed closed for most of the quarter with the Bishops getting as close as 32-30 on a Woods three-pointer with just 1:35 remaining.

Kadence Walker-Lee, who had nine points and seven rebounds, started the game-ending 8-2 run with a three-point play to push the lead back to five points with 1:14 remaining. Bishop England answered that with two free throws from Madison Riley with 59 seconds remaining to make it 35-32.

Mason, Alyssa Woodlock, Diamond Tatum and Walker-Lee then combined to make 5-of-8 free throws while the Bishops couldn’t make a basket on the other end.

“We expected them to come back, that’s what they’ve been doing all playoffs” Wallace said. “We kind of expected a run, we just had to weather the storm.”

Mason missed most of her junior season with a knee injury. She said the game plan was to get the ball down low and let the bigger War Eagles work on the block.

“Not to sound cocky or anything, but when I said in past interviews that nobody could stop us down (low), I meant it,” Mason said. “When we get our heads and lock in that we have to finish something, we are going to come through for our team every chance we get.”

GC: Maliyiah Mason 11, Jordan Mintz 11, Kadence Walker-Lee 9, Diamond Tatum 6, Alyssa Woodlock 3. BE: Izzy Woods 11, Madison Riley 10, Hadley Irvine 4, Lissie Van de Erve 3, Lizzy Tompkins 2, Jetta Mevold 2. 

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