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Sumter County looking for a three-peat

A Sumter County three-peat is now only 32 minutes away.

The top-ranked two-time defending state champion Wildcats dispatched Cherokee County 56-47 Wednesday morning in the state 3A semifinals to advance to Friday night’s state championship game. A win there would give the program its seventh state title.

“I was pretty much pleased with the way we played,” said Sumter head coach Alonzo Sledge. “We got of to a pretty good start, and we thought that if we did that we could kind of control the tempo … speed it up, slow it down. We got a lot of fast break baskets.”

The game was decided by a 9-0 Sumter run in the second quarter. After the Wildcats entered the period trailing 15-12, senior Cordarrin Wilson drained a three one minute in to tie the game. After a Cherokee County basket, Sumter rattled off the contest’s next nine points, capped by a three-pointer from Larry Foster at the 2:27 mark to give Sumter a 24-17 lead. Two more Wilson baskets kept the lead at seven, 28-21, heading into the locker room and the Wildcats would not trail in the second half.

The story of the first half was Wilson, who stepped up as star guard Foster struggled (1-of-10 shooting in the half) to score 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

“Our two-guard, Larry, got kind of frustrated,” Wilson said afterwards. “We just did the same thing we did in practice … I was open, and Coach says to shoot it if we’re open. In the second half Larry started hitting, Cordarro was scoring … we did what it took.”

The Wildcats went inside to pad their lead in the third period. As the Sumter defense held the Warriors to only 9 third-quarter points, forwards Cameron Ezell, Cordarro Law, and Patrick Delaine attacked the basket to the tune of 17 third-quarter points of their own. Foster drove the basket, scored, and was fouled with 1:12 to play in the period, the resulting free throw capping a 13-4 run that gave the Wildcats their largest lead, 44-27.

Despite a 46-30 deficit entering the final period, Cherokee did their best to make things interesting in the closing seconds. After Law had scored to give the Wildcats another 17-point lead with 5:41 to play, the Warriors hit a pair of threes and ran off 14 points over the next five minutes to pull within 52-45. But Wilson’s pair of free throws with 30 seconds to play pushed the lead back to nine and out of reach.

“We knew they weren’t going to go away,” Sledge said of the comeback. “They came back from 22 points down at their Regional, so we told our guys not to relax. They did exactly what I thought they would do.”

Law led the Wildcats with 17 points, tying Cherokee’s Quentin Price for game-high honors. Law was followed for Sumter County by Wilson with 15, Ezell with 13, Foster with 7, and Delaine with 4. Ezell led all rebounders with 12, giving him a double-double.

With the win, Sumter improves to 27-1 on the season. Tip-off for Friday’s championship game against No. 2 Madison Academy, 66-39 winners over Headland, is scheduled for 8 p.m.

“It means a whole lot,” Sledge said of the opportunity to win the school’s third straight title and second with Sledge at the helm. “I’m more proud of the kids than I am of myself. Law, this is his third straight title game, Foster, his third straight. That’s great for the program.”