Nation Ford’s Camille Kerridge gets fouled on the way to the basket during the Falcons game at Rock Hill. Photos by Rob Upton Photography.

ROCK HILL – Despite falling on the road to a region foe, the Nation Ford girls basketball coach Kelly Bennett said his team would keep “scrapping” for the best seeding possible ahead of the upcoming Class 5A state playoffs.

Every team in Region 3-5A is competitive, Bennett said, a testament to how much the area cares about developing winning programs.

Point guards Chloe Hudson and De’Ashaj Crawford combined for 37 points to lead defending 5A state champion Rock Hill (16-6, 6-2 in region play) in the region win 59-46 at home. The Bearcats got better each quarter, ending with 24 points in the final eight minutes of play.

Nation Ford took an early three-point lead after the first period thanks to timely jumpers by shooting guard Camille Kerridge, who scored 15 points, and a 3-pointer by shooting guard Aubrey Barney.

Rock Hill opted for the 3-pointer time and time again throughout Friday’s contest. To counter the Bearcats’ offense, Nation Ford dug into a full-court press on defense and enjoyed plenty of fastbreak opportunities on the other end.

The Bearcats eventually took the lead thanks to deep 3-point shots by shooting guard Meghan Emsermann and freshman Hudson. Crawford’s long jumper with a minute to go, combined with Hudson’s two made free throws in the final 10 seconds of the half, pushed Rock Hill into a 22-20 halftime lead.

“We knew nobody can get into a shooting match with that kind of team,” Bennett said. “But they did a great job of keeping them in front, closing off with their hands high. We have defenders who can tip, who can make them run off their spot. They did a great job of that for three and a half quarters.”

Nation Ford even took the lead when Kayla Wilmore strung together three unanswered baskets midway through the third. But treys by Hudson and Katie Reed, combined with a Hudson steal that led to a quick layup, was enough for Rock Hill to take the lead for good with a seven-point lead heading into the final quarter.

Two more layups by Wilmore in the first 90 seconds of the fourth quarter cut the lead to three, but she soon fouled out, halting Nation Ford’s building momentum.

With one of Bennett’s key starters gone, Crawford had more room to operate on transition plays. She pushed the lead back up to eight with two back-to-back layups as Nation Ford was unable to keep up with Rock Hill’s pace.

Rock Hill nailed 13 of its 16 free throws in the final eight minutes to seal the win.

“It’s a shame when that happens (Wilmore fouling out),” Bennett said. “It takes away from what we like to do, and we had momentum when she was out. That’s a key piece that goes out.”

Coming into tonight’s game, Nation Ford was tied with Clover and Blythewood at 3-4 in region play as all teams were battling for a spot in the Class 5A playoffs.  The loss drops the Falcons to 12-11 on the season and 3-5 in region play.

“It’s a scrap for every spot from head to toe,” Bennett said. “It speaks to our region and what we have going on.”

Bennett said he wants his team to focus on finishing as the Falcons gear up for the final games of the regular season.

“We want to finish the ball games we started,” he said. “When we can lock in and focus, we’re one of the best teams in the region and the state. We’ve seen some great competition, and we continue to get better and better.”

Rock Hill pulls away from Falcons

Four Bearcats had double-digit nights to help Rock Hill earn a convincing region win at home over visiting Nation Ford 72-63.

-Quentin Houston led all scorers with 23 points, while Zacarious McKinney (15 points), Ke’Mari Boyd (12 points), and Kali Carter (11 points) all had standout nights to help Rock Hill (16-5, 6-2 in region play) stay in the hunt for the top seed in the region, which would guarantee a home game in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.

Shelden Joseph scored 14 points, Caden Giles scored 13 points, and JJ Rembert added 11 points to lead the way for the Falcons, who drop to 8-16 overall and 1-7 in region play with two more region contests left to play.

Rock Hill nearly made it a track meet in the opening eight minutes. The Bearcats struck out to a 14-3 lead in the opening seven minutes, with three of their first five baskets coming from fast breaks.

The Falcons, for their part, were held without a field goal until Joseph hit a shot two minutes into the second quarter. Still, Nation Ford fought back with baskets by Joseph, Giles, and shooting guard Turner Blackwood to cut the lead to seven with 4:30 left.

Joseph and Giles then nailed midrange jumpers to help shave the Bearcats’ lead to five with a minute left.

But the duo of Houston and Wilson both nailed 3-pointers in the final minute of the half to boost Rock Hill’s lead to 30-21 as both teams headed for the locker room.

Nation Ford’s prospects didn’t get much better in the second half. Falcons head coach Charles Brown was given a technical foul minutes into the third quarter, and Houston and Carter nailed four 3-pointers between themselves to push the advantage.

Joseph picked up back-to-back treys of his own to cut the lead to six with three minutes left in the third, but Houston answered them with his own back-to-back 3-pointers, plus a Carter steal and dunk that raised the biggest roar from the crowd on the back of an 8-0 run.

Nation Ford outscored Rock Hill 26-22 in the final eight minutes, but the result had been long since decided.

“You knew (Rock Hill) would come out playing hard tonight,” Brown said. “I didn’t think we played terrible. As we got into the game, I wanted to open up driving lanes. we missed a lot of shots and free throws and they made theirs.”

Nation Ford returns home to play Spring Valley Tuesday, Feb. 7 and finishes at Fort Mill Friday, Feb. 10.

Nation Ford’s Sheldon Joseph fights for room against Rock Hill during Friday night’s game.