TIGERVILLE – At the very first practice of the 2021-22 season, Catawba Ridge girls’ basketball head coach Sheridan Pressley had a message for her Copperheads team.
Every member of the team, she said, must put in the work each day, to contend for a state championship. On Tuesday night, Catawba Ridge proved it had put in the work it takes to compete with the best teams in the state.
The third ranked Catawba Ridge fell to Westside Rams out of Anderson 44-36 in the Class 4A girls’ basketball Upper State championship game Tuesday night at the Davis Field House on the campus of Bob Jones University in Tigerville.
The Copperheads trailed by just a point at halftime and even led the top-ranked Rams 36-33 early in the fourth quarter. But Westside held Catawba Ridge to just one point in the fourth quarter and drained four unanswered buckets in the final seven minutes to secure a spot in the Class 4A state title game.
Pressley, who is in her first year as head coach for the team, said she was incredibly proud of her youthful team, which has no seniors, and includes two freshmen starters.
“Despite what happened tonight, there is a lot to be proud of,” she said. “No one expected us to be here, but we deserved to be here. We were able to make a run all the way to the Upper State championship without any seniors. We have to keep our heads up high, even though things didn’t go our way tonight.”
Freshman Skyla Tuthill led the Copperheads with 11 points. Junior Brielle Windisch added nine points, including seven in the third quarter. Freshman Makailah Davis and sophomore Morgan Davis notched six points each. Junior Tatum Postel added four points as well for the Copperheads.
The Rams entered the game as undefeated defending state champions. The Copperheads reached the state semifinals in just their third year in program history. In the first two years, Catawba Ridge had failed to progress past the first round.
“At the end of the season, you are usually saying, ‘What am I going to tell this group of seniors?’, but instead we are going, ‘We set the standard and built the culture,’” Pressley said of her young team. “Now we are going to get back to work. I’m so proud of everything they have accomplished.”
Catawba Ridge got off to a hot start, but Westside was equal to it. Tuthill and Morgan Davis notched the game’s first two field goal to give the Copperheads an early 4-0 lead. The Rams quickly answered with four straight buckets, including a 3-pointers by senior shooting guard Branya Pruitt. The Rams led 14-9 after the first quarter.
The Copperheads locked down on defense in the second quarter, holding Westside to just one basket while scoring on three field goals to cut the lead to 16-15 heading into the halftime break.
Makailah Davis grabbed a steal and turned it into a breakaway layup to tie the game at 22-22 midway through the third quarter. Soon after Postel drained a 3-pointer early in the third quarter to hand Catawba Ridge their first lead of the game at 25-24.
Both teams ended the third quarter with a barrage of 3-pointers, including three back-to-back-back in the final 20 seconds of the period.
With just eight minutes left to play, Catawba Ridge led 35-33. But Westside’s defense won out in the end. The Rams held the Copperheads to just one free throw in the fourth quarter.
Westside, now 27-0, will next play North Augusta in the state final 6 p.m. Sat., March 5 at USC-Aiken and are looking to repeat as 4A state champs. Catawba Ridge’s season is over at 23-3.
“We stood toe-to-toe with them,” Pressley said. “We had a chance late. I told them to remember this feeling. We will be back. It’s a learning opportunity, and we will be better because of it.”