Everyone knew Augusta Christian had a good boys basketball team this season. The Lions, coached by former county standout point guard John Harris, got off to a great start but ran into trouble during region play. They still managed to post an 18-7 regular-season record and were seeded fourth in the Upper State bracket.
To achieve their ultimate goal of winning a state crown, the Lions would likely have to beat Hammond and Cardinal Newman. Hammond was the pretournament favorite, led by super sophomore Seventh Woods, while Cardinal Newman stood tall as the defending SCISA AAA Champions. To make matters worse, the Lions had squared off with each team twice with the same result – four losses. Here is a look back at those regular season matchups.
Jan. 14: Augusta Christian 51, Cardinal Newman 54
Jan. 24: Augusta Christian 56, Hammond 69
Jan. 31: Cardinal Newman 59, Augusta Christian 48
Feb. 11: Hammond 68, Augusta Christian 64
So, the Lions entered the state tournament as a good team, but most felt they were a long shot to win it all. Except for Harris and his team. They had battled both Hammond and Cardinal Newman, losing close calls to each.
They had also earned plenty of respect early in the season with their play at a tournament in Arizona. Yes, the Lions thought if they played well for four straight games there was no reason they could not claim the school’s third title in boys basketball.
And, the team did just that. They played outstanding basketball for four straight games to claim the 2014 AAA SCISA crown.
They opened with a victory over Wilson Hall, a team they expected to beat. It was here where the ride was expected to get bumpy. As the No. 4 seed, they had to face top-seeded Hammond and YouTube sensation Seventh Woods. ACS put on a defensive display that will be remembered for quite some time.
They held Seventh Woods, one of the top 15 sophomores in the nation, to 11 points (which is barely over half his scoring average) in route to a 47-43 victory. Hammond came into the game averaging nearly 66 points per game, but the Lions held them almost 23 points below their season average. Next up would be No. 2 seed Northwood Academy.
For the second straight game, ACS held a quality opponent to 45 points or less as they hammered Northwood 63-45, with sophomore Madison Williams leading the way with 19 points.
The balanced Lions got 10 points each from Jordan Dingle and Nick Fortenberry, while Calvin Taylor and Jacob Greenway chipped in with 8 each.
The win put the Lions in the title game versus defending Champion Cardinal Newman. Like Hammond, Cardinal Newman had beaten ACS twice in the regular season, but none of that mattered on Saturday night in Columbia.
This Lions squad was playing stifling defense and with extreme confidence. The result was a 59-53 victory, in a game that was not even as close as the final score may indicate. The Lions were the best team on the floor, period. Zach London stepped up to lead the team with 15 points and Dingle chipped in 12 of his own.
To further illustrate the balance of this team, the Lions had a different leading scorer in each of their four state tournament games.
They bought in to Harris’ system. They played unselfishly. They played hard. They believed. And because of those three things, they are state champions.