The record is only 6-9, but that already matches the victory total of last year’s squad. Gardner hopes a tough early schedule can propel his team toward a playoff berth when the Region 3-3A schedule begins at home against Chapman on Friday night.
“That’s one of our goals,” he said. “In our region, it’s Newberry and then everybody else. Last year Newberry was right on the edge of winning the state championship. With the rest of the teams, we feel like we have a fighting chance, and making the playoffs would be a goal that hasn’t been done here in a while. It’s going to be a battle night after night.”
The Lady Red Devils have had a tendency to stay in the game for three quarters against larger schools such as Laurens and Greenwood, only to run out of gas at the end. Clinton has beaten Chester and Belton-Honea Path.
They’re young, though. Very young.
“We’re putting ourselves in position to win but haven’t been able to keep going at the end. At home against Laurens, I was looking at the stats afterward, and we shot 40 free throws and only hit 15,” Gardner said. “Still, I looked out on the floor during that game, and, at one point, we had three eighth graders, a ninth grader and a 10th grader on the court at the same time. It’s a blessing, in a way, but it can be frustrating, too.
“What makes me proudest is our improvement as the season has gone along. We’ve seen the improvement in practice.”
Clinton and Chapman split their games in 2016-17.
“They will be another one of those region teams we can play with, but it will be a challenge,” Gardner said. “It should be a good one, and it’s very important to play well in our region opener.”
The only senior is Ashlyn Abercrombie, whom Gardner deemed his team’s hardest working defender. Junior Savanna Campbell has found her shooting touch recently. Sophomore Terriauna Bennett has taken over at point guard. The leading scorer, freshman De’Shanti Watts, “can play any position on the court,” Gardner said.
“What’s really exciting to watch is the improvement of so many young players who will be back,” he concluded.