RIDGELAND, SC (WTOC) - Ridgeland-Hardeeville senior Nygel Boozer doesn’t pull any punches with his assessment of the situation.
“We’re feeling like we’re overlooked and nobody thinks we can win this game,” he says bluntly.
It’s not just Boozer who feels that way. The sentiment is shared by his Jaguar teammates as they prepare for Saturday’s SCHSL Class 3A state championship.
“We don’t get a lot of respect yet,” says senior guard Devin Butler. “But that’s what this state championship is going to do.”
The Jaguars aren’t out of line asking to be acknowledged. They’ve won six consecutive region titles and made two state title game appearances since 2015.
Just about the only thing they haven’t done is claim the SCHSL crown.
"Once we get our first, that gets our foot in the door for the respect that we’re earning, the publicity that we’re earning,” says senior forward Rashamel Butler.
“We know our program measures up with any other program in the state,” says head coach Jeremiah Faber. "[Winning a state title} will solidify our program and put us in that echelon with all the other great teams.”
This weekend’s title game serves a little more of a purpose for these Jaguars as well. It’s a second opportunity.
Ridgeland-Hardeeville reached the state championship last season, but fell short to Southside. The team’s state runner-up banner is meant to hang with pride, but it’s nothing but a stinging reminder this week.
The good news is the Jaguars believe they’re a different team from this time last year.
“We learned you can’t be intimidated. That’s the number one thing,” admits Butler. "Last year, we were more intimidated because they had a lot of size, and we were younger.”
This time, the Jaguars say they’re more mature and better suited for the moment. Faber also believes they saw what it takes to win on the biggest stage. He believes his team is more prepared for the second go at it.
“We have to stay simple. If we do the simple things, we’ll win the basketball game,” Faber says. “We can’t afford to fall behind early or pick up silly fouls. I think that’s what happened to us last year.”
Faber says defending and rebounding for 32 minutes are just two of the simple things he’s stressing this week at practice.
While this team has a second chance at a state title, they also have a chance to get even with their opponent. The Keenan Raiders beat Ridgeland-Hardeeville for the 2015 Class 2A state title. The Jaguars can even that score with a win Saturday.
The team will have senior captain Rashamel Butler for this weekend. Butler was hit with a two-game suspension for picking up two technical fouls in the Jaguars’ third round game.
Any ejection from a contest results in a two game suspension. But Faber was able to successfully appeal that suspension down to one game, meaning the senior swingman will be eligible to play Saturday.