St. Albans' Breanna Propst (12) battles Nitro's Melissa Belcher for a rebound.
This time of year the name of the game is to survive and advance, and that's just what St. Albans did Monday night - if only by the skin of its teeth.Senior guard Sarah Reynolds knocked down a game-tying 3-pointer just ahead of the buzzer in regulation, then gave the Red Dragons their only lead of the game in overtime en route to eking out a 41-38 win in the opener of the Class AAA Region 4 Section 1 tournament.A crowd of about 100 attended the cross-river rivalry postseason matchup at the Tex McCue Williams Gymnasium at St. Albans High School. SA (7-16), which snapped a seven-game losing streak, will play at top-seeded South Charleston at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the semifinals. The winner advances to Friday's section championship game.Reynolds took a long pass down court, stepped behind the 3-point line and drilled only her second made shot with seven-tenths of a second left. Nitro didn't have a chance to inbound the ball as the buzzer sounded shortly after.The 5-foot-4 Reynolds had missed her previous 13 shots stretching back to the first quarter before sending the game into the four-minute extra period."I was just glad I could knock one down finally,'' said Reynolds, who finished with 10 points on 3-of-18 shooting and a 2-of-12 performance on 3s. "It was hard because I had to take a step back, but I knocked it down because I had confidence.''Reynolds then sank a 12-foot baseline jumper 10 seconds into OT to give SA its first lead at 35-33. The drama wasn't done as freshman guard Savannah Shamblin converted a short jump shot in the lane to pull Nitro within 39-38 with 18.2 seconds remaining.Reynolds answered by hitting two foul shots to set the final score with 14.4 seconds to go. Nitro had one last chance as junior guard Madison Godbey fired up a 3 and went stumbling off to the side, but no foul was called as time expired."I was proud of Sarah,'' said SA coach Scott James. "Sarah didn't shoot the ball very well, but when the game was on the line she stepped back and hit a big 3 to send it to overtime. "You've got to give the credit to the Nitro girls. They wanted to win the game worse than we did. I was proud of [our girls] for hanging in there and the fight they had in the fourth quarter.''
SA 6-0 freshman Breanna Propst led all scorers with 20 points on 6-of-14 accuracy and knocked down 8-of-12 free throws. She also contributed 10 rebounds. The Red Dragons made only 23.5 percent (12-of-51) of their shots from the floor but did convert 15-of-22 at the foul line."We got open shots, but we just couldn't knock them down,'' Reynolds said. "My team fought through and we got the win.''Nitro's inexperience showed in the fourth quarter and overtime, when the Wildcats committed nine of their 24 turnovers."The things that have kind of haunted us all year,'' said Nitro first-year coach Annette Olenchick, who played two freshmen and a sophomore in the six-man rotation."We're in very good shape, but if you play as hard as they do it's going to take a toll. We have seven of the eight coming back. If they improve as much as they did this year, we'll be competitive.''
Sophomore center Halie Miller turned in 10 points and 13 rebounds for Nitro (3-20), which lost to SA twice during the regular season by scores of 65-43 and 53-40. Wildcats junior forward Melissa Belcher pitched in 10 boards to go along with eight points.SA's reward will be facing a red-hot SC squad, which finished third in the final Associated Press poll. The Black Eagles are coming off a 65-52 victory Saturday over previously unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Greenbrier East to win their third straight Mountain State Athletic Conference Night of Champions title game."We can't be intimidated when we go out on that floor,'' said James, whose team lost to SC 68-42 during the regular season. "We've got to walk out on that court with confidence and belief and execute the game plan. If we do that and play hard, that's all I can ask.''Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org