Nitro's Savannah Shamblin drives to the basket against South Charleston during Thursday night's game.
NITRO -- South Charleston's Lina Villanueva knew she didn't have her offensive touch Thursday night, so she found other ways to make her mark.
The sophomore sank the front end of a 1-plus-1 free-throw attempt with 11.7 seconds left in overtime, then after missing the second try, stole the ball to seal the Black Eagles' 61-58 victory over host Nitro. A crowd of about 300 attended the Class AAA Mountain State Athletic Conference matchup.
Villanueva's first made foul shot gave SC a 59-58 lead, but she couldn't connect on the second attempt. Nitro's Halie Miller controlled the rebound, but Villanueva came up with a steal and fed the ball to freshman Taliah Cashwell, who missed the jump shot. Black Eagles senior Alliyah Webb snagged the rebound and stuck it back in for a 61-58 edge with 4.6 seconds to go.
By the time Nitro pushed the ball past mid-court and SC's pressure the buzzer sounded before the Wildcats could get a shot off.
Villanueva made 1 of 13 shots from the field, missed all six of her 3-point attempts and hit on 2 of 4 free throws to finish with four points. She did, however, grab four rebounds, hand out five assists and spearhead the pressure defense with eight steals.
"Whenever I was at the [foul] line I was really nervous,'' said Villanueva. "I made sure I made my first one. Whenever I missed my second. I was looking at [Miller's] eyes and I knew she was going to pass it so I jumped into the passing lane.
"I knew I couldn't shoot. The only thing I could do was play defense. That was the main thing I tried to work on. I saw that I was helping the team so that made me feel a little better.''
Nitro sophomore point guard Savannah Shamblin sank both shots of a 1-plus-1 free throw with 6.4 seconds to go in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 53-all and send it into the four-minute OT period.
SC took the lead for good on senior Laci Jarrell's foul shot at 54-53 with 3:25 left in overtime, but Shamblin nailed a jump shot with 32.7 seconds left to set up Villanueva's heroics. It appeared Shamblin's shot was a 3, but the referee closest to the play never signaled and the one at mid-court shrugged his shoulders.
Cashwell continued her surprising play with a game-high 25 points on 9 of 19 shooting with three rebounds and six steals for SC (2-1). She coolly hit a 3 with 11.1 seconds left in the fourth period to put the Black Eagles ahead 53-51 before Shamblin's foul shots. SC's Webb added 13 points and junior Ary Mosley chipped in eight points and 14 boards.
The Black Eagles committed 32 turnovers, but found a way to win another close game. SC edged Logan 50-48 in the last few seconds last week.
"They're still learning basketball,'' said SC first-year coach John Testa, a former women's assistant coach at the University of Charleston. "We didn't play hard. They thought it was going to come to us. We've got to go earn it, we've got to go want it and take it.
"I had a freshman step up, Taliah Cashwell. She's not a freshman anymore. What can I say about her? She's playing everything I need her to do. These close games will give us some character. You lose six seniors and a good coach in Gary [Greene] ... I've got a great group of kids.''
Shamblin finished with 19 points, four rebounds, five assists and two steals for Nitro (2-1) while Hannah Linville pitched in 12 points, nine boards and four steals and Bethany Hill added 11 points and six rebounds.
"South Charleston did a great job of keeping the ball out of Savannah Shamblin's hands,'' said Nitro first-year coach Will Samuel. "That's the thing to do for right now. We had some girls make some plays.
"One call or one shot could have gone our way and it's a different game. They came in the locker room saying, 'Last year we lost to South Charleston by 40.' That's the kind of outlook we're taking. We're just working hard.''
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4811.