CHARLESTON – There is a reason why whiteboards aren’t permanent.
No coach, not even St. Marys girls basketball coach Howard Meeks, could have devised such an ending in the pregame locker room that resulted in a 45-43 win against Wheeling Central in Friday morning’s Class A state semifinal at the Charleston Civic Center.
“Wow, what a game,” Meeks said.
With two of his senior starters having fouled out, the Blue Devils turned to the heroics of freshman Ashley Hall and fellow reserve Haley Everett in a game that witnessed 10 lead changes and eight ties.
St. Marys trailed by five points entering the final quarter, but Everett’s bucket with 42 seconds remaining in regulation put her ballclub in front to stay at 41-39.
On the ensuing possession, Wheeling Central’s Colleen McCormick missed a 3-pointer and St. Marys’ Abbi Fetty pulled down the defensive rebound. Two Maroon Knight fouls later and the Blue Devils were on the bonus.
Stepping to the line was Hall, who began her career at the state tournament 0-for-10 from the field until she converted a pair of field goals earlier in the fourth quarter. As soon as the front-end of the one-and-one foul shot slipped through the net, Hall mouthed the words, ‘Thank God.’ The second free throw was just as clean as the first and the St. Marys lead was 43-39 with 28 seconds showing.
Following Emily Bucon’s lay-up at 19 seconds, Hall was immediately fouled. And once again, her two foul shots hit nothing but net for a 45-41 advantage at 16.6 seconds.
The Blue Devils were not out of the woods, yet. McCormick hit a pair of free throws at 1.6 seconds to cut the deficit to 45-43, and when a tie-up at halfcourt on the next series resulted in Wheeling Central’s ball the Maroon Knights still had a chance with three-tenths of a second left in the game. McCormick took the inbounds, but hesitated trying to get the shot off from inside half-court and her attempt didn’t come close to the rim as the shot occurred as the buzzer sounded.
Wheeling Central coach Penn Kurtz thought about having McCormick intentionally miss the second free throw at 1.6 seconds and possibly looking for a 3-point attempt off a possible offensive rebound.
“We’ve practiced that, but we don’t do that very well,” Kurtz said. “We had a better shot of her making the free throw then trying to get a five-second count.
“We actually got the turnover, but I wish I had one more timeout because we have a play that works with three-tenths of a second. But we just didn’t get it off.”
At 25-1, St. Marys meets four-time defending state champ Huntington St. Joseph (24-1) in today’s state championship, slated for a noon tipoff at the Charleston Civic Center. Wheeling Central ends the season at 22-5.
Kendra Walker led St. Marys with a double-double of 14 points and 16 rebounds, while fellow post player Clark scored a team-high 15 points and grabbed eight boards before picking up her fifth personal foul with 5:40 still left in the final period.
Classmate Dani Moore, who finished with a team-high four steals, sat in the seat beside Clark after fouling out at the 2:27 mark of the fourth quarter.
“I have faith in my team,” Clark said when asked about possibly playing her final high school basketball game on Friday. When she took a permanent seat on the bench, her team trailed 31-27. “I teared up being a senior, but I looked at my team and said we can do this. We can beat them, and we did.”
St. Marys did not record a bench point until the 5:26 mark of the fourth quarter, yet finished with 10 for the game eight by Hall and the two points registered by Everett in just four minutes of playing time.
“I coached a little girl in fifth grade who told me she couldn’t dribble or couldn’t do a lot, and she was going to quit basketball,” Meeks said. “I looked that little girl in the eye and said do me a favor, I can teach anything, but I cannot teach heart and you have heart. You stick around and we’ll go places.
“For Haley Everett to pick up that loose ball, ball fake and go up and lay it in if she doesn’t score another basket in St. Marys history that’s a huge one right there.”
Despite being at a disadvantage in the post, Wheeling Central outrebounded St. Marys, 39-35. Bucon finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds, while McCormick added 14 points and 13 boards.
“The lead was never (safe),” Kurtz said. “With St. Marys, you know what they are going to do. They will pressure the ball then they will try to pound it inside. What we stopped doing was scoring. We stopped running our offense, and I’m not quite sure why.
“It was anybody’s game there until the end.”