COLUMBIA | The state runner-up trophy cradled under his left arm, Craig Martin was left explaining away the night that could have been.
The Myrtle Beach basketball coach had only moments before lost the Class 4A state championship game to Ridge View at Colonial Life Arena, and he was staying on a message that went above and beyond one game.
“There were two teams left in 4A, and we were one of them,” Martin said after his team fell 69-59. “Somebody has to win; somebody has to lose. We were on the losing end. If this is the worst thing that happens to us all year, we had a pretty good year. You’ve got to keep things in perspective. It’s a great opportunity for us to teach kids.
“What do you do now? Do you quit? Do you pout? Do you mope? No. You’ve got to keep fighting. You’ve got to keep working. That’s what it’s all about. It’s never been about basketball.”
The game itself made that message necessary and likely to be repeated during the painful and long ride back to the beach ahead.
The game ended what has been a dynamic run to Columbia, the first one in 12 years for not only Myrtle Beach, but any boys programs in Horry County. And when it was all said and done, the experience levels at this point of the year may have been the deciding factor.
That’s because while Myrtle Beach players said earlier this week they needed to treat Saturday’s state championship like any other game, Ridge View treated it like another one of its title appearances. The Blazers initiated an 11-point run in the closing seconds of the third quarter to take the lead and never relented, winning their third consecutive state championship.
“Once they got going, they just got hot,” Seahawks senior guard James Marques said. “We just lost it and got out of control. We didn’t stay together at that moment.”
Foul trouble didn’t help.
Darius Hough, one of the more influential players on this year’s team, fouled out with 2:47 to go and Myrtle Beach trailing by seven points. With a little under one minute to go and the game seemingly in hand, all-everything guard Emorie Knox joined him on the bench, an unceremonious ending for one of the best point guards to ever play for the Seahawks.
Both players had previously been sat down in order to slow their foul progression.
“We’re an aggressive team,” Martin said. “We got after it and some of those calls, unfortunately, didn’t go our way. … Those are probably our two best players. You take two of their best players off the court and see what happens.”
Knox led Myrtle Beach with 16 points, while J.J. Jones had 14 and Ayden Hickman put up 10. By comparison, Ridge View’s top players had 23 (Tyler Rice), 16 (Cincere Scott), 14 (Ja’Von Benson) and 13 (Patrick Jenkins).
The Blazers held statistical advantages in rebounding, too, but the ultimate difference was all about the second half, when they shot 53.6% from the floor compared to a 36% clip from Myrtle Beach.
“It feels even better,” Ridge View guard Tyler Rice said helping his team to the three-peat. “People doubt you — say you lost all your seniors and you can’t do it again. So it feels good to do it even more and prove people wrong.”
It completed what was a continuation or formation of dynasty status for many among the state’s hoops scene.
Ridge View was one of six teams to repeat in the South Carolina High School’s League’s Weekend of Champions, joining boys squads Dorman, Keenan and Gray Collegiate and girls squads Goose Creek and North Augusta. While none of those teams played a part in Myrtle Beach’s loss, the Blazers’ experience factor in the biggest gym in the state certainly did.
“They were very poised. You could tell they had been here before,” Martin said. “They made plays. We didn’t make plays that we had to. A lot of that probably had to do with the fact that they had been here two, three times. I think there’s something to be said about that.”
And about coping with defeat.