- River Bluff High School
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Men's Basketball Secures State Championship
River Bluff Head Men’s Basketball Coach Ben Lee seemed to have the right ingredients for a state championship run heading into the 2020-21 basketball season – tons of experience, an all-senior starting five, the returning All-State and Region 5 Player of the Year, a standout returning from injury, and a sharp-shooting cast of players. Still, with so many unknowns – one being if the season would even happen, much less be completed – nothing was a sure bet.
As the season progressed and River Bluff worked their way through tough region play, it became evident that this Gator team was indeed special. How special was yet to be seen. The regular season was no cake walk for the Gators as they ended up 5-3 in region play, just well enough to earn a playoff berth.
Gator Fans were cheering in the stands. But we’d seen this before – in what round would River Bluff exit?
Well, River Bluff seemed to find a special gear as the postseason started. The Gators rolled through the first two rounds, raising some eyebrows of basketball experts around the state.
Gator fans were cheering in the stands. Let’s just be satisfied with making it one more game than last time. After all, just making it to the Lower State Championship is quite an accomplishment.
The doubts persisted from those outside of the program. Dutch Fork still stood in the way of a Lower State Championship. And if somehow the Gators could get past the Silver Foxes, the behemoth of basketball in class 5A – the Dorman Cavaliers – would most likely be awaiting the representative from the Lower State.
Well, those who had watched River Bluff and Dutch Fork square off in the two regular season games knew that the Gators would not be underdogs. The teams split the home-and-home match-ups in the regular season and they were evenly matched. As expected, the game was a hard-fought battle to the end. But, the Gators prevailed.
Making history in the school’s short 8-year existence.
River Bluff was going to the State Championship.
Gator fans were cheering in the stands. But, as expected, awaiting them there was none other than Dorman, four-time defending champs.
The Gator faithful showed up on gameday to line Corley Mill Road to give the team a big sendoff on their way to the Aiken Convocation Center. Soon, fans would be following the path to cheer on River Bluff in their title quest.
Then came the big moment – game time. The environment was electric, despite the limited seating. The crowd was definitely pro-Gator. After all, it was their first time. This was old news for Dorman. Been there – done that. Still, it was certainly a state championship atmosphere and in some ways must have seemed like a home game for the Gators, thanks to their supporters who made the trip down from Lexington.
Gator fans were cheering in the stands for sure. But, it was River Bluff vs Dorman. Dorman – the four time defending champs. The Gators should cheer and have fun, but once the game started the fun would end for the folks from The Swamp, right?
The game tipped off and Dorman started off with a 2-0 lead, hitting the first bucket of the game. That was the last time they would be ahead until half-way through the 3rd quarter. True to their playoff form, the Gators jumped out to a first quarter lead with impressive shooting and amazing play from All-Everything Myles Jenkins – a foreshadowing of things to come. At the end of the first quarter, River Bluff was on top 21-12, led by Myles Jenkins’ 12 points.
Gator fans were cheering in the stands. But, it was early.
Sure enough, Dorman made a run and closed the gap in the second quarter. Nothing less would be expected from a talented and well-coached team like the Cavaliers. Thanks to a Malachi Reeves 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer, the Gators led by three, 30-27. As the teams headed into the locker rooms, Jenkins had 19 points to his name. As well as he had played in his high school career to this point, something was different about tonight.
Gator fans were cheering in the stands. But, it was only halftime.
Coming out of the locker room, it became clear that Dorman was not going to go quietly. Their man-to-man defense extended beyond the arc and River Bluff had a difficult time finding shots. At the 5:02 mark, Dorman found themselves in the lead 31-30 – their first lead since jumping out to an early 2-0 lead on their first possession of the game. From there, the third quarter became a heated back-and-forth battle. Whenever Dorman looked like they might take the game over, someone stepped up for River Bluff – in this quarter it was Greyson Renner and, you guessed it, Myles Jenkins. When the third quarter came to a close, Dorman had the lead 38-35.
You could almost see the thought bubbles over many of the experts’ heads: “Now, we’ll see what everyone expected – Dorman will take over the game in the fourth and win their fifth straight championship. Nice game, though River Bluff.”
Gator fans were still cheering in the stands, though. Did they know something no one else knew?
Dorman came out in the fourth and hit a jumper to go up 40-35. Then, Jenkins sank an acrobatic two-pointer with defenders in-tow, picking up the basket and the foul. He hit the free throw. Quick aside – he didn’t miss from the charity stripe all night. This brought the Gators within two, 40-38. A three-pointer by Dorman gave the Cavaliers a 43-38 lead. Gator point guard Landon Stills hit Preston Hearn for a layup to keep the Gators close, 43-40. Dorman hit an inside jumper to push their lead back to 5. But, Jenkins earned another 3-point play the hard way, knocking down a contested shot and hitting his free throw.
Suddenly, it became evident that Myles Jenkins would do anything he could to win this game. It also became evident that Dorman had no answer for the senior guard. Jenkins would need help, though. The score was 45-43 in favor of the Cavaliers with three and a half minutes to play.
Coming out of a media timeout, Dorman turned the ball over and Preston Hearn’s hot hand from behind the arc continued as his timely three-pointer gave the Gators the lead once again 46-45. The basket would prove even bigger than it seemed at the moment. The Gators would never lose the lead after that point.
Gator fans were cheering in the stands. In fact, they were going wild. But, the game was not over.
The Cavaliers had to start fouling to get into the bonus so that they could stop the clock with a foul. Three fouls later, Dorman had gotten within one of the amount they needed, but allowed Jenkins to get free for a short jumper, which he proceeded to bury. The Gators led by three, 48-45 with 1:35 to play.
Gator fans were cheering in the stands. But…well, maybe.
River Bluff then caused a turnover and Dorman fouled Jenkins to stop the clock. Not to be denied, Jenkins knocked down both shots of the one-and-one to give his team a 50-45 lead. The clock showed 49 seconds. Could this really be happening?
Another turnover by the Cavaliers led to another foul – this time sending Landon Stills to the line. Stills hit both shots and the Gators led by seven with 42 seconds to go – 52-45.
From that point on in the game and to no avail, Dorman put up desperation shots against a tough Gator defense. Gator Guard Greyson Renner hit one out of two from the free throw line on the subsequent foul and then sank a layup after another Dorman miss.
River Bluff was beating Dorman 55-45 with 22 seconds to play.
Gator fans were losing their minds in the stands. Yep – this was happening.
Another turnover gave River Bluff the ball and a downcourt pass to Malachi Reeves ended in a celebratory layup at the buzzer to give the Gators a 57-45 victory.
The horn sounded. River Bluff had won the SCHSL 5A State Championship. Coach Lee had earned his 100th win. Myles Jenkins proved himself on the biggest stage – scoring 31 points on 11-for-16 shooting, eight rebounds, four blocks, no turnovers, and perfect from the free throw line. Hearn, Reeves, Stills, and Powell all fulfilled roles as starters. The bench contributed. The game plan worked. The program earned a tough State Championship. Late that evening, Gator fans gathered back at the same place from where the team bus had left just hours before to welcome home the new State Champions
Gator fans were celebrating and, this time, there were no doubts from the outsiders.
Myles Jenkins – 31
Greyson Renner – 6
Landon Stills – 2
Chase Powell – 2
Preston Hearn – 9
Malachi Reeves – 7
Z. Foster – 8
J. Breazeale – 14
D. Wright – 6
N. Clowney – 6
J. Surratt – 5
E. Burgess – 6