CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Summer Stephenson, in the midst of a long winter, shined brightest for the Cabell Midland girls basketball team Thursday night to lead the Knights to the program's first state tournament appearance in more than 15 years.Midland entered the AAA Region 4 co-final with a clear size advantage in senior post players Emily Pitkin and Sierra Jordan, though Stephenson and Haley Haggerty, both 5-foot-3 sophomore guards, proved the difference in a 52-42 win at St. Albans.Stephenson scored a game-high 15 points off the bench and Haggerty added nine points, with the players recording every one of their combined 24 points in the second half to lift Midland statebound for the first time since 1998."Today, they stepped up," Knights coach Matt Adkins said of Stephenson and Haggerty. "Coming into that timeout (with 1.4 seconds left), my senior Pitkin hugged both of them. That's the team aspect of it."
St. Albans held its largest lead at 28-19, scoring the first five points in the second half, but Midland quickly responded and led 35-34 entering the fourth quarter."We told them it's not over, but we had to dig, and we did and stayed at it," Adkins said.Stephenson and Haggerty opened the fourth with back-to-back 3-pointers to push the Knights' advantage to seven. The Red Dragons later cut the lead to five on two occasions, though drew no closer despite several opportunities."It was just a matter of boxing out really, because we let them have a lot of second chances on offense and we just had to execute on offense, get the ball moving," Stephenson said. "Luckily, we came out on top tonight.Pitkin said she was pleased to see her backcourt teammates execute as she expected plenty of attention in the frontcourt."They knew the pressure, they were coming after us (bigs)," she said. "We told the guards they have to step it up. They stepped into their roles. They're young, but Summer Stephenson, she's stepped into her role many times in big games this year, and Haley. They just hit their outside shots and we give them confidence, and they go in there and do it."Haggerty's first points, her 3-pointer with 6:40 left in the fourth quarter, ended an 0-for-7 field goal drought to begin the game. Haggerty finished with nine points, though, playing a key difference for the Knights down the stretch.As Haggerty and Stephenson controlled the guard play, Pitkin, listed at 6-2, finished with a double-double, posting 12 points and 10 rebounds. Jordan (5-foot-11) finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.Adkins said he was most proud in the team's achievement for his seniors, including Pitkin and Jordan."My four seniors have been with me for four years and it's been great for them," he said. "That's who I wanted it for, I wanted it for my team. It feels great."While Pitkin said the team wasn't pleased with its sluggish start, she's more than happy with the end result.
"It's an incredible feeling," she said before cutting down the nets. "Four years, I've been waiting and we finally hit our peak here in the end. It's just an amazing feeling. It's incredible."Usually, we're a second-half team. I hate to say that, but we get it together. We just know we have to win, so we come together."The comeback signaled a great effort from Midland (18-6), but for SA (19-6), it marked a heartbreaking finish."The bottom line is they came and out-played us tonight," Red Dragons coach Scott James said of Midland. "We didn't bring our 'A' game offensively. We never got into sync. We kept dribbling to the sidelines where they wanted us to."It's a disappointing end to a fantastic season by our girls. I'm so proud of them. I'm disappointed, they're disappointed, but it's the best record a St. Albans team has had in 20, 21 years. They know we could be going up to the state tournament, but we got out-played tonight by Cabell Midland, and we wish them the best of luck."Lexie Cooper and Breanna Propst each scored nine points to pace SA.
The squads traded the lead seven times, with three ties across the first half. St. Albans twice led by as many as four points, but no greater, and the Red Dragons held a 23-19 advantage at halftime.