Winfield seized its final regular-season opportunity to get back on track and picked up a bit of hardware in the process.
The Class AA No. 5 Generals forced 19 turnovers, limited No. 7 Sissonville to 13-of-51 shooting, atoned for a headscratching loss to Logan a week ago and won an outright Cardinal Conference championship in the process with a 52-40 road win over the Indians on Wednesday evening. The game closed the regular season for both teams.
After a 17-1 start to the season, Winfield ran into some adversity a week ago, dropping back-to-back decisions to Class AAA Parkersburg South and then a puzzling 33-30 setback to the Wildcats, a game in which the Generals led 17-2 after the first quarter.
But after blowing out a struggling Point Pleasant squad on Saturday, Winfield seemed to put the questions to rest for good on Wednesday, using its pressure defense to force 19 turnovers and a flurry of rushed shots that went begging for the Indians (16-6).
“We really wanted to win the league outright,” Winfield coach Shawn Lucas said. “We didn’t want to share it, we wanted it. The girls came tonight focused.”
The Logan loss provided a bit of extra drama on Wednesday, setting up a scenario in which the Indians and Generals (19-3) would share the league crown if Sissonville won.
While it was anything but according to plan, Winfield had plenty on Wednesday to get the job done.
Leading scorer and freshman Z.Z. Russell had a scoreless first quarter and, after getting on track with six quick points in the second, was forced to the bench with three fouls.
Already shorthanded with starter Sydney Cavender sidelined with a sprained ankle, senior Mary Lawman provided a much-needed spark for the Generals.
Lawman played in the high post in the middle of Sissonville’s 2-3 zone and helped orchestrate the Winfield attack, taking open mid-range jump shots, driving to the rim and distributing. The result was 14 first-half points, a season- and game-best 17 overall and 10 rebounds, three assists and five steals for good measure.
Her eight points in the second quarter spurred a 16-6 period for Winfield, turning a 9-9 tie into a 25-15 advantage at halftime, with a lot of the damage coming while Russell was off the floor.
“We have been practicing an offense against 2-3 all week because we know that’s what they were going to play,” Lawman said. “I don’t really shoot, ever, and people have told me, ‘Just try to shoot,’ and tonight I shot whenever I thought I was open and some of them went in.”
The Indians burst out to leads of 6-0 and 8-2, piling up points before the Generals could fall into their full-court pressure.
But once that happened, the game turned quickly as Sissonville turned the ball over 13 times in the first half and couldn’t slow the game or itself back down in the half-court when it did break the press.
“It’s not like we haven’t seen [the press] before and we know to do better,” Sissonville coach Rich Skeen said. “I thought we did better not turning it over as much in the second half but still we were our own worst enemy. They speed you up, they make you do things that you don’t want to do — we have to play smarter and we didn’t tonight.”
Still, Sissonville clawed back in with a 10-3 run to open the third quarter, narrowing the gap to 28-25 with just over a minute left in the period.
But after being relatively quiet, Russell landed an important flurry with a basket, an assist to Kalei Jordan on the next possession and then a steal and a bucket as the horn sounded to push the lead back to nine at 34-25. Sissonville never got closer than seven again.
“We had it to three with about a minute and a half left and then they scored six,” Skeen said. “That’s six points just like that. We broke down there and that’s our fault. Those three plays stick out in my mind.”
Russell finished with 14 points to go with seven rebounds while Laila Arthur scored 13 points and had eight boards for Sissonville. Ashleigh McGhee pulled down 14 rebounds to go with eight points but was 3 for 12 from the field as all five players for Sissonville struggled to hit shots.
“The defensive pressure we had tonight was excellent,” Lucas said. “Our press looked good tonight and our halfcourt man was a little better. We had to fix a few things on the help side — we were getting outside the paint on our help side and finally got inside the paint and gave some help to stop dribble-drives. Defensively, when you hold the No. 7 team in the state to 40 points, that’s pretty good.”