Middle schooler leads Chiefs to the Class 4A Lower State title

North Myrtle Beach’s Destinee Vereen, an eighth grader, works toward the basket. The Chiefs are the Class 4A Lower State champs with the 30-18 win over Darlington at Carolina Forest High School on Saturday. The team will be playing for the state title on Thursday in Aiken. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

If you want to win a high-profile basketball game that is getting ugly, you better have the player ready to make the ugly plays.

The North Myrtle Beach girls got that in the form of eighth grader Destinee Vereen. Because of the huge boost their middle schooler provided, the Chiefs are the Class 4A lower state champs after a 30-18 win over Darlington at Carolina Forest High School. 

“I talked to her this week because I’ve been noticing in some of the games she’s reduced her intensity a little bit. She wasn’t boxing out like she normally does,” coach Brooke Smith said of her 14-year old. “I told her ‘Destinee, you need to go out and play this tonight.’ She knows she earned the respect of Darlington because of guarding [Falcons all-state forward Summer Joseph]. They told her that. This is her time to shine.”

Vereen definitely did. In addition to helping to hold Joseph scoreless, Vereen was all over the offensive and defensive glass, fought for loose balls and chipped in eight points in an ultra-low scoring affair.

Even though her production wouldn’t have jumped off a stat sheet, it was evident to the limited fans who were able to watch the game in person. They gave her a great ovation when she checked out of the game late after North Myrtle Beach started to put it away.

Her lockdown defense started early, and then it continued in the second half, when Darlington failed to score until a pair of KaNaya Jones free throws with .2 seconds left in the period.

“We had to come out hard at halftime and stay on them [defensively],” Vereen said. 

The Falcons did get a team-high 11 points from Shaniya Jackson, but the rest of the offense was unable to get much of anything going all game. North Myrtle Beach held Darlington to just six field goals the entire night and prevented the Falcons from scoring for a four-minute stretch in each of the first three quarters.

Much of it could be attributed to North Myrtle Beach’s effective use of a 2-3 zone after starting out in a man look.

“That put us in the head space to slow the game down,” Smith said. “We were trying to do too much. You could tell a lot of the girls had a lot of nerves. The nerves were really showing.”

But the reason the Chiefs adjusted better was the knowledge that they had already defeated Darlington twice this year — including in the Region VI-4A tournament championship — not to mention North Myrtle Beach’s huge second-round victory over four-time defending Class 4A champion North Augusta.

Like the game against the Yellow Jackets, when North Augusta could manage about half of their season scoring average, the Chiefs stopped trying to force shots and were instead comfortable with slowing it down.

Darlington scored just five points in the opening quarter, four in the second, two in the third and seven down the stretch. North Myrtle Beach, meanwhile, got 10 from Adaiah Vereen, eight from Destinee Vereen and five from Daveona Hatchell.

That was enough to advance to the program’s first state championship game since 1990. The Chiefs will attempt to win their first title since 1986, when they took home the Class 2A crown.

They’ll face Westside at noon Thursday at USC-Aiken. It’ll be the next step for a program that has been trending upward in Smith’s tenure.

The fourth-year coach is now 56-19 at the school and will have a shot to add another huge highlight to a school that has fed off other sports success this year.

“We have to figure out what our strengths are and what their weaknesses are and just be us,” Smith said. “That’s our motto right now: Be you.”

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236

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