Rams will play Irmo for Upper State title

Rams will play Irmo for Upper State title

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Rams will play Irmo for Upper State title

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SIMPSONVILLE

Hillcrest boys basketball coach Reggie Choplin recently talked about how Tre Smith can have a big game and still go somewhat unnoticed.

That was not the case Wednesday night, and Smith was the first to admit it.

Smith, the Rams’ senior guard and the state’s Class AAAA Player of the Year, scored 14 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter to help Hillcrest defeat Spring Valley 68-65 in the third round of the playoffs.

Smith was vocal and active in the final quarter, during which Hillcrest didn’t take the lead for good until Smith scored on a drive with 2:40 remaining.

“It kind of started getting to me that this could be the last game of my high school career,” Smith said, “and that’s not the way I wanted to go out, with a loss in the third round.”

“He stepped up like he should,” said Choplin. “He’s a senior, the state player of the year and he’s a competitor. We’ll ride his back as far as he can take us.”

Next, Smith will take the Rams to the Bi-Lo Center. Hillcrest (23-3) will play Irmo (27-0) for the Upper State championship at 8:30 p.m. Friday.

The Rams’ victory against Spring Valley was not secure until P.J. Dozier’s 3-point attempt hit the front of the rim as time expired.

The shot ended a second-half comeback by Spring Valley (18-10), which trailed by 15 points in the first half and by 40-31 at halftime. Tyler Hooker scored 16 of his 17 points in the first half to help the Rams build their lead.

“It was a tale of two different halves right there,” Choplin said. “I’m proud of our guys for hanging in there. We scored four points in the third quarter, but we grinded it out in the fourth quarter.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve been in a game like that, and they pulled through. They stuck together on the court. There’s a lot to be said for that.”

“We’re a family,” said Hillcrest senior forward Randalle Walker. “We play as one always. We’ve got each other’s back always.”

Walker nailed two free throws that helped to keep Hillcrest in front with 2:08 left. When he missed two with eight seconds to go, Spring Valley had one last chance.

Dozier, who led the Vikings with 19 points, was unable to connect with a pair of defenders on him.

“He’s always been in that position to take that shot, so I felt confident that he could, but it just was short,” said Spring Valley coach Perry Dozier, the former University of South Carolina star and P.J.’s father.

“We came back and played hard and had opportunities to win and just came up short.”

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