After losing the past two years in the playoffs to Gray Collegiate, Christ Church coach John Butler wanted one more shot at the War Eagles.
The Cavaliers made the most of that opportunity, beating the War Eagles, 64-58, on Monday in the Class 2A Upper State championship at Lander University.
Christ Church will play the Wade Hampton-Woodland winner at 7:30 p.m. on Friday in the 2A final at USC-Aiken.
The loss ends Gray Collegiate’s bid for its fourth straight 2A championship.
Monday’s victory is special for the Butler family. John Butler Sr. is the head coach, and his sons, John and Jordan, are two of the Cavs’ top players. John Butler, a Florida State signee, scored 21 points and Jordan added 19.
“It is unbelievable,” Christ Church coach John Butler Sr. said. “You watch your kids growing up, playing and shooting in the backyard. And now to think they have a chance to win a state championship is unbelievable.”
The Cavs got contributions from other players, too, including guard Bennett Rogers, especially the second half.
John Butler Jr. picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter. The War Eagles, who trailed by as many as 13 points, started to chip away at the lead behind North Carolina A&T signee Chase McDuffie.
McDuffie scored 15 of his 16 points in the second half, all on 3-pointers. His final 3-pointer gave Gray Collegiate a 58-56 lead with 2:07 left. But the War Eagles didn’t score after that had a couple of big turnovers including when they were down 60-58.
DJ Harvey hit two free throws to put the Cavs up 62-58 with 31.7 seconds left.
“If you take away the first half, us not playing good basketball and waiting until the second half, I think it is a different game,” Gray coach Dion Bethea said. “That is the way it goes sometimes. They were prepared and I thought we were prepared. We just have to be a whole lot better.”
Senior Timothy Barnes added 15 points and sophomore Brandon Gardner added 14 points and had several key blocks. Gardner will be one of the key pieces returning for the War Eagles’ next season as they look to make another championship run.
Bethea knows the future is bright at Gray but also is appreciative of what the team has accomplished in the past five seasons, which include three state championships and two trips to the state semifinals.
“It has been special. We have done a lot over at Gray Collegiate Academy. We have had a lot of great players come through there. We just got to keep working,” Bethea said. “This ain’t the end. We got three starters back and guys who could have started that will be back. We just got to get ready in spring and summer and make another run at it.”