Grantham leads Martinsburg to title
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For much of the past two years, Martinsburg has been the first word out of virtually everyone's mouth when talk centered on the top basketball teams in West Virginia.
On Saturday night, the Bulldogs finally got in the last word.
Donte' Grantham scored 20 points, ripped down 17 rebounds and helped steady his team during a late crisis as top-ranked Martinsburg claimed a 57-52 victory over No. 2 Woodrow Wilson in the Class AAA title game played in front of a large crowd at the Civic Center and a statewide television audience.
It marked the school's third basketball championship, matching those taken in 1994 and 2009.
"I told our players before the game,'' said Bulldogs coach Dave Rogers, "that we can sneak back into town if we don't win and have it be a soft landing, or go out and win a state title and come back to a lot of accolades and a lot of fanfare.
"It's not only the state tournament, but it's a special one because it's the 100th year of basketball in West Virginia.''
The win sewed up a stellar season for Martinsburg (26-2), which won its final 14 games, and for Grantham, a 6-foot-7 senior regarded as a top candidate for the state player of the year award and a likely Division I recruit.
It also made amends for last season when the Bulldogs - like this year - entered the state tournament as the No. 1 seed, but lost an eight-point lead in the final 31/2 minutes to George Washington in the semifinals and had to watch neighboring rival Hedgesville take home the AAA crown.
"What a way to go out, man,'' said Grantham, who played under the watchful eyes of West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, seated in the front row of the Civic Center crowd. WVU is one of the schools recruiting the all-stater.
Woodrow Wilson (23-5), which had a 19-game winning streak snapped, was seeking its first title since 2008 and a record 17th overall.
The Flying Eagles gave Martinsburg fits in the second half after falling behind by as many as 13 points in the second quarter and then by 17 with three minutes left in the third.
They went on a 14-0 run between the quarters to close within 45-42 on a Chase Hancock basket off a fine feed from senior point guard Andrew Johnson, who played an inspired second half, scoring 15 of his 19 points and dishing out four assists. Martinsburg went 7:02 without a point in its dry spell.
"They were whipping us in the first half,'' Johnson said. "We didn't match their intensity and because of that, they felt they had an easy game. The first half was easy for them. I thought, 'I'm not going out like this.' We gave it our all. I couldn't be happier with the way we played in the second half. I'd be happier with a state championship, but I love these guys.''
Martinsburg, now spreading the offense and running clock on most possessions, bounced its lead back out to nine points at 51-42 by making the majority of its free throws (10 of 15 in the final quarter). Woodrow had one final surge left, though.
Johnson found Dai Dai Fortune with a nice pass, drawing a foul, and Fortune made both free throws to lower the margin to 51-49 with 1:37 to go.
Martinsburg milked the clock until Jalen Lewis was fouled at the 52-second mark and made one free throw to up the lead to three. When he missed the second, Woodrow's Brent Osborne landed the rebound, but as he tried to float at outlet pass downfloor, it was tipped by Jordan Robinson to Lewis, who sailed in for a layup and a 54-49 edge with 42 seconds left. That was the Bulldogs' only field goal of the fourth quarter.
The Eagles got three rushed shots on their next possession, but none fell and it was pretty much over.
Rogers noted that Martinsburg was in dire foul trouble as the end of the third quarter neared - three starters sitting with three personals and one with four. Grantham finished out the final three minutes playing with four subs as Woodrow embarked on its 14-0 run.
"I tried to keep the team together,'' Grantham said. "As seniors, we had to be leaders. We tried to keep our composure and win this championship we worked hard for.''
Neither team shot all that well - Martinsburg 35 percent and Woodrow 34, but the Bulldogs held a 41-32 edge in rebounds, including 18 offensive boards.
The Flying Eagles, who averaged about 70 points during their 19-game win streak, were held to their lowest total since their last loss 20 games ago.
"We showed a whole lot of heart,'' Kidd said, "but give Martinsburg credit. That's why they were No. 1 the whole year. They proved it tonight.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.