Lexington wins Lower State title

By Thomas Grant Jr.

FLORENCE | The memories of past state semifinal losses hung over the Lexington High School team Friday.

The Florence Civic Center was where the Wildcats made their last Class 5A Lower State final appearance in 2019. They lost to Berkeley in what was legendary head coach Bailey Harris’ final game.

Last year, Lexington fell to eventual state champion Dorman in the Upper State final at Bob Jones University in Greenville.

This time, the Wildcats were back in Florence determined to make sure the third semifinal appearance was the charm. The seniors on the roster were especially motivated to lead the program back to the state finals for the first time since 2012.

“We actually looked at Dorman film and we just didn’t want to feel the same way by going to the locker room and crying,” forward Jaxon Prunty said. “We didn’t want to feel like that.”

Lexington’s Jaxon Prunty

Jubilation and satisfaction were the only emotions expressed by Lexington following the 56-48 win over Summerville. The 17th straight win by the Wildcats sets up a matchup with J.F. Byrnes in the Class 5A title game in Florence on March 1 at 8 p.m.

“I didn’t want to have that feeling that we had last year,” senior guard Kaleb Evans said. “I’m not walking off the floor without a win, so that’s what we did.”

Evans and Prunty each finished with 13 points and Cam Scott had 10 for Lexington (26-2).

Yannick Smith scored a game-high 28 points and Melvin Teal added nine for Summerville (25-3). It never led in losing for the second time this season to the Wildcats.

“You’ve got to be able to guard the ball,” said Lexington head coach Elliott Pope about his team’s defense. “Melvin Teal is a heck of a guard. Yannick Smith is a heck of a guard. (Kenneth Brown) is a heck of a guard. You’ve got to be able to guard the ball. You’ve got to be able to rebound.

“We got sloppy in some spots. We got a little bit overaggressive, but 17 and 18-year-old young men competing, that’s going to happen from time to time. But I thought our guys for the most part in crucial moments needed to get a stop, needed to get a rebound. I thought we did a pretty decent job.”

Lexington jumped out to a 13-4 lead in the first quarter. Caleb Campbell provided an inside boost with four of his six points on offensive putbacks, and the Wildcat defense held Summerville to one field goal.

A 6-1 run to open the second quarter gave Lexington its biggest lead at 19-5. Summerville’s Smith proceeded to embark on a personal 11-0 run to bring the Green Wave within 19-16.

Scott stopped the scoring run with his second 3-pointer of the game. A 3-pointer by Coulter and free throws by Prunty and Scott gave Lexington a 28-20 halftime advantage.  

Evans hit two three-pointers to open the season half as Lexington extended its lead to 40-27. The Wildcats also received an inadvertent “assist” from Summerville’s Zavarion Jenkins who deflected a shot attempt by guard Brayden Rollins off the backboard and through the net.

Smith responded for Summerville with six straight points to cut Lexington’s lead to seven points.

As time expired in the third quarter, Scott hit an off-balanced 3-pointer from near the Lexington bench to push the lead back to double digits at 43-33. It was the only points of the fourth quarter by the S.C. Basketball Coaches Association’s Class 5A Player of the Year.

After a layup by Smith, Lexington’s Bell nailed a baseline 3-pointer and Prunty scored on a breakaway slam dunk to make it 48-35. Summerville had a final 10-0 run capped by back-to-back 3-pointers by Smith to get within 48-46 with 4:12 left.

Following a timeout, Evans found an open Campbell for a layup to make it 50-46. Evans then connected on his third 3-pointer and Prunty scored Lexington’s final three points on a slam dunk and 1-2 free throw to clinch the win.

“This time, we took (the semifinals) way more seriously,” Prunty said. “We practiced this whole week. I think that’s what led to the outcome.”

The Wildcats (28-2) now have a week to prepare for the challenge of getting one more win to claim the school’s first state title since 2000.

“I have nothing but the utmost respect for Layne Fowler and what he does with his program, with his guys, with his sons,” Pope said. “I think he does a great job. We’ve got to work overtime this next week to prepare for those guys on Friday night.”

The game is set for 8 p.m. Friday at the Florence Civic Center. It’s also available for streaming for a fee at www.nfhsnetwork.com.

Photos by Thomas Grant Jr.