“Get Up Big Blue, Big Blue Get Up.”
“Big Blue,” better known as the Lancaster Bruins, did get up to make a name for itself in Class 4A basketball this season.
That rousing “Get Up Big Blue” chant was the Bruins’ familiar battle cry, letting opponents from the Upstate to the Midlands and Pee Dee know they were for real, their claws as strong and piercing as their distinct roar.
The Bruins fell short in their quest for coveted state gold, losing to a talented Irmo High School team, 58-45, but their journey was impressive on the court and off the hardwood.
The Bruins earned their share of respect across the state and brought their community together along the way.
Lancaster head coach Jerron Cauthen, in reflection, noted the building blocks in the school-record 28-4 season.
An early-season win over T.L. Hanna in the Battle at the Rock in Rock Hill was key for Lancaster, a 20-7 finisher the previous season with much promise in a new season.
Lancaster downed the Yellow Jackets, a 21-8 finisher and the Region I-4A champion.
The Bruins were minus their top player, senior ace Grayson Kirk that night, nursing an ankle sprain, but a silver lining loomed in the cloud.
Lancaster stepped up and posted a 65-53 win in the showcase, which drew NCAA Division 1 coaches.
“Watford (Jordan) and Gladden (Jy) played well,” Cauthen said. “Then, our younger guys, the freshman players of Malik Tinsley, R.J. Brown and Columbus Parker stepped up. They didn’t play like freshmen.”
Watford, a sophomore sensation, has already drawn college offers, and Gladden is a two-sport standout who produced a stellar senior season. Ladarius Cloud also did his part with ball-hawking defense and clutch buckets.
“We were without Kirk, our best player, but came away with the win. It was like a heavyweight fight,” Cauthen said. “We took the blows, but battled all the way against a quality team. That was an early turning point.”
A few weeks later, the Bruins went to Brookland Cayce and took the title in the Columbia area holiday tourney, which included a 69-66 win over Gray Collegiate, the eventual Class 2A state champion.
“Winning that tournament at BC was special,” Cauthen said. “That tournament molded our team.”
Gray coach Dion Bethea was so impressed he summoned the Bruins to take his War Eagles’ place in an elite prep tournament in the Northeast, which featured some of the nation’s top teams.
In its game in the Delaware field, Lancaster fell to Long Island Lutheran, 76-50.
“We were disappointed with the loss, but the experience was worth it,” Cauthen said. “We gained notoriety and our team came together in a bonding experience.
“I saw then what I saw the rest of the season. They loved being around each other and played for each other, which is so important.”
In a season of endless shining moments, there was some disappointment, including a 62-47 home loss to Region III-4A rival South Pointe High, the 2021 4A state champion, in January.
As would be the blue-and-gold norm, Lancaster atoned nicely, routing the host Stallions, 75-42, on their home floor in the rematch.
The Bruins had their share of hallmark wins, downing Class 4A Lower State runner-up Hartsville twice, along with a win over defending Class 4A champion Wilson High of Florence and Oceanside Collegiate Academy of Charleston, the Class 2A Lower State champion and state runner-up, and Gaffney High, a longtime Lancaster sports nemesis.
Big Blue fans of any Lancaster sport will tell you a win over Gaffney is one to savor.
An impressive 58-48 win over Greenville High, the top seed in the Class 4A Upstate bracket, on what was essentially the Red Raiders’ home floor at Bob Jones University in Greenville, gave the Bruins their first bid to the Class 4A state title game in 73 seasons.
But in the Bruins’ way for the state title was Irmo, guided by Tim Whipple, a legend in Palmetto State basketball with six state crowns, over 800 wins and 11 state title game bids.
Lancaster’s shots didn’t fall early, and they fell into an early hole. But the Bruins, a bear for the bulk of the season, clawed back into contention to the delight of their adoring fans.
Irmo earned the state crown, but the Bruins made them work for the top prize.
Lancaster, to the chant of its familiar “Get Up Big Blue, Get Up,” got just enough of a taste in their title chase to whet their appetite.
“Next time, I’m not coming back empty-handed,” said Cauthen, who returns a solid squad next season.
That said it’s safe to say you haven’t heard the last of “Get Up Big Blue, Big Blue Get Up.”
The Bruins will be “Up” for the challenge once again.