It wasn’t a packed crowd like it would have been in a normal year, but the spectators who walked out of Ridge View High School on Friday night likely didn’t feel cheated with what they had just witnessed.
Dorman and Ridge View, two of the top boys basketball programs in South Carolina, put on a show for those in attendance — with Dorman winning 60-51 to advance in the Class 5A playoffs.
“Even though we didn’t have 1,500 people in here, it felt like it a lot of times,” Ridge View coach Yerrick Stoneman said. “This is a high-caliber basketball game. I would say at any time tonight, you had eight to 10 Division II or better players on the court. It was a special game. We just came up a little short tonight.”
Ridge View’s gym, which has a capacity of 1,598, wasn’t close to being full because of COVID-19 protocols. The school’s athletic director, Brian Rosefield, said 200 tickets were sold and another 45 people got in with passes.
In a normal year, this game could have been moved to a bigger venue such as Colonial Life Arena to accommodate the demand for tickets. But that wasn’t an option with COVID restrictions in place.
Despite the smaller crowd, people started arriving more than an hour before game time. The energy built as DJ IAM spinned the music as players warmed up. Spectators wore masks and were socially distanced per COVID-19 protocols.
And thousands who couldn’t be there tuned in for the game’s online live stream. QC Broadcasting, which airs Ridge View’s home games, said more than 5,300 people tuned in to watch the Facebook stream of the game — up from the 800 to 1,000 viewers with a normal Blazers broadcast.
The three-day buildup around the game reminded JoJo English of some of the huge matchups he was a part of in the state while playing for Lower Richland High School in the 1980s. There were the games with Eau Claire, including two at Carolina Coliseum in front of more than 10,000 fans. There also was Lower Richland’s state championship game against Hillcrest.
Dorman-Ridge View had that same big-time feel because of the dominance the two programs have enjoyed the past five seasons They entered Friday’s game with 224 combined wins and seven state titles since 2016-17.
“It is almost like March Madness or an Elite Eight game. Coach Stoneman (Ridge View) and Thomas Ryan (Dorman) have set the standard for the last few years and are competing on the national stage,” said English, the former University of South Carolina standout who is now the head coach at Richland Northeast. “These are two of the best coaches, teams and players in South Carolina. Even though you won’t have as many people, the intensity level will be a little higher because you are playing for a chance to play for a state championship.”
Dorman has won four straight Class 5A titles and Ridge View three in Class 4A. The Blazers moved up to 5A this year.
“These kids started thinking about this game right after the last regular season game everybody looked at the brackets,” English said, “but you knew you were going to meet for a chance to get to the state championship.”
Many projected that Friday’s winner will go on to win the 5A state championship, but that remains to be seen with two rounds left. Dorman came in as a slight underdog to the top-ranked Blazers because they were on the road — and because of the amount of talent the Cavaliers lost from last year’s 30-1 team that finished No. 2 in the final ESPN and MaxPreps Top 25 rankings.
In a poll conducted by The State of coaches from around South Carolina, 12 of 18 picked Ridge View to win over Dorman.
“We knew what everyone was saying, but inside that locker room we knew somebody had to beat us,” Ryan said. “We work hard. And while Ridge View is awful talented, we had confidence we could win this game.”
Ridge View led 41-40 going into the fourth quarter before the Cavaliers went on a 12-4 run to lead with 4:25 left. Class 5A Player of the Year Jalen Brezeale hit a number of big shots and finished with 24 points. His backcourt mate Zay Foster added 17.
Sophomore GG Jackson led Ridge View with 18 points, and Davion Everett added 14. Everett picked up his fourth foul in the fourth quarter when Dorman went on its run.
Dorman was able to neutralize Ridge View’s outside shooting and didn’t allow the Blazers’ transition game to get going.
The Cavs will play Riverside on Tuesday with the chance to play for their fifth straight title on the line.
“There are not many games where everyone is living and dying on every basket, and you had that tonight,” said Ryan, a Lexington native. “The kids were excited.”