CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- And a child shall lead them.With two key seniors fouled out and on the bench, a freshman helped third-seeded St. Marys rally from a five-point fourth-quarter deficit and grab an improbable 45-43 victory over second-seeded Wheeling Central in the girls Class A state semifinals Friday morning at the Civic Center.Most observers figured the game was over when the Blue Devils' leading scorer, Audra Clark, picked up her fifth foul with 5:40 remaining. Central led 31-27 at the time, and Clark had been the Blue Devils' only reliable point producer until then.But with Clark out, freshman guard Ashley Hall and 6-foot-4 junior center Kendra Walker stepped up big.
Walker drew the Devils within a basket when she hit a layup in heavy traffic, senior guard Dani Moore tied the game seconds later with a steal and a short jumper and, on the next St. Marys possession, Hall swished a 12-foot baseline jumper that gave the Devils their first lead since early in the third period.But then Moore, the Devils' most reliable ball-handler, fouled out.Central reclaimed the lead with 1:39 remaining on two free throws by guard Emily Bucon, but Walker's stick-back at the 1:18 mark knotted the score at 39-39.After Central's Beth Stayduhar missed a 3-point attempt from the left sideline, Walker again got loose inside and gave the Devils a 41-39 advantage.The Knights' Colleen McCormick then missed another 3-point attempt, and Central was forced to foul to get the ball back. They fouled Hall, and the freshman stepped to the line and buried both ends of a one-and-one with 28 seconds remaining.Bucon cut the lead to 43-41 when she slashed in from the right wing for a layup, but once again the Knights were forced to foul Hall.With 16 seconds showing on the clock, Hall stepped to the line, drained both attempts and put her team up by four, 45-41. McCormick hit two free throws with 1.6 seconds left, but the outcome had already been decided."Wow, what a game! What a game," St. Marys coach Howard Meeks said afterward. "It's a great day to be a Blue Devil."Meeks praised Hall's late-game performance, but said it took a mid-game wake-up call to shake the freshman out of her state-tournament rookie jitters. Before her fourth-quarter heroics, Hall was 0 for 9 from the floor in two games."I growled at her," Meeks said. "I told her it was time to step up. 'Play or come sit down.' And she stepped up."Clark led the Blue Devils with 15 points. Walker added 14 and hauled down 15 rebounds.
Two Knights registered double-doubles in the contest. Bucon tallied 19 points and 14 rebounds, and McCormick added 14 points and 15 rebounds. Wheeling Central finished its season 22-5.St. Marys (25-1) will face top-seeded St. Joseph in today's noon championship game. St. Joe crushed Tucker County 63-31 in the other semifinal.Meeks acknowledged that St. Joseph should be favored, but vowed that his squad would turn itself inside out to try to pull an upset."[St. Joe] has great talent; no one can say they don't," Meeks said. "But we're not going to lie down and we're not going to quit. We're going to play St. Marys basketball."Reach John McCoy at email@example.com or 304-348-1231.