Lady Gators Seeking First-Ever State Championship

The ECHS Lady Gators take on Cherokee Friday for the state championship (submitted photo)
The ECHS Lady Gators take on Cherokee Friday for the state championship (submitted photo)

By McArthur S. Moore

Later this week, The East Columbus Lady Gators basketball team will be looking to make history.

The Gators will face off against the 28-1 Cherokee Lady Braves in the 1A Girls Basketball State Championship at Wake Forest’s Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston Salem on Friday at 6 pm. East Columbus has never won a Girls Basketball State Championship in its 32-year history; however, this season appears to be the year of the Gators, with a 25-1 record and winning the Waccamaw Conference championship last month.

The Gators have made an impressive run to Winston-Salem, defeating North Moore 64-22, North Duplin 63-51, Gates County 54-47 (in an overtime win), Pamlico County 67-53  in their final game at home, and most recently, a convincing ten-point victory over East Bladen in the state semifinals in Winston Salem this past Monday.

East Bladen handed The Gators their sole loss this season back in early January. In a revenge game against the Eagles, the Gators were led by Sophmore Malia Graham, who put together an impressive 29-point and 11-rebound showing. Graham has been the Gator’s leading scorer all season, averaging 17.5 points a game.

East Columbus never gave up the lead and had extended their lead up to 20 in the third quarter before the Eagles were able to make a run in the fourth quarter. It was then that Malayah Hines would score four of her 17 points back-to-back to extend the lead back out to 13 to truly put the game out of reach. Senior Chynna Patrick pitched in a massive 16-point and 17-rebound double-double.

As for the Braves, Cherokee defeated top-seeded Mountain Heritage with a score of 64-51 behind 17 points from Junior Whitney Rogers. Cherokee took control defensively from the opening tip. The Braves have not been to the State Championship since 1998.

Gators Head Coach Latoya (Toi) Brown stated in a press conference after Monday’s win when asked about the state championship, “I’m super proud of my girls for getting here, finishing the job, but we still have one more game to go, and we’re just trying to stay focused.”

Expect Friday’s championship matchup to be extremely back and forth, as both schools have only one regular season loss. East Columbus will be looking to use its speed to its advantage, while Cherokee will use their defensive ability to try and shut down the Gators’ offense.

If the Gators win, it will be the first state championship in any sport from Columbus County since the Whiteville Wolfpack won the baseball championship in 2019.