Girls basketball state tournament: St. Joseph reclaims Class A title with win over Williamstown

F. BRIAN FERGUSON | Gazette-Mail
St. Joseph’s Alexis Hall (left), Dena Jarrells (center) and Bailee Adkins (right) celebrate after winning of the Class A championship game against Williamstown Saturday at the Charleston Civic Center.

Slaying two giants in 24 hours proved too tall a task for Williamstown.

Dena Jarrells scored 17 points and Paige Shy added a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds Saturday afternoon as St. Joseph returned to the top of the mountain with a convincing 64-46 victory over Williamstown in the Class A championship game at the Charleston Civic Center.

It’s the eighth state title for the Irish in nine seasons after they saw their run of seven straight halted in last year’s finals loss to Gilmer County. The Yellowjackets (21-6) were seeking their first crown since 2003.

“I was disappointed last year, disappointed in myself maybe,’’ said Irish coach Shannon Lewis, “feeling we weren’t quite as prepared as I thought we were ... That’s probably why I was a little more intense this year. I really wanted it for the kids as much as anything.’’

The sixth-seeded Jackets went from tackling No. 2 Wheeling Central (25-1) in the semifinals on Friday to meeting the state’s gold standard in St. Joseph the next day. The Jackets were competitive for more than two quarters, but were ultimately undone by 20 turnovers and 27 percent shooting.

“We go from the No. 3 team in the state [Tucker County in the quarterfinals] to No. 2,’’ said Williamstown coach Fred Sauro, “then in my opinion, the No. 1 team in state. The only reason they got a five seed is because of their record because they’re playing these monster schools with great programs, and it gets them ready for this.’’

The Irish (18-9), despite all their recent accomplishments, entered the tournament seeded fifth, but only two of their losses came to West Virginia schools — and those were Class AA powers Bluefield and Wyoming East. Their presence still looms large over the rest of the division as they’ve now played in the state finals 10 straight times and return all but one starter next season.

“They can shoot the 3,’’ Sauro said, “they can drive it and they have a really good post player [Tyesha Taylor, the team’s lone senior starter]. They’ve got all the ingredients, and it was difficult for us.’’

Williamstown got down 11-3 at the outset, but kept clawing back. The Jackets got within two, fell behind by 12, cut it to six, trailed by 16 and then made it 39-30 on a pair of Ashley Morris free throws to start the third quarter. But by the end of third period, the toll had reached 20 points at 54-34.

St. Joe’s quickness continually frustrated the Yellowjackets. Three times right after they’d scored, the Irish swiped an inbound pass and got another bucket. Three other times after Williamstown had collared a defensive rebound, St. Joe stole the ball out of the rebounder’s hands and stuck it back through the hoop.

“They’re so quick,’’ Sauro said, “and they throw it on and off like that, and we’re not a team that has that much quickness ... I don’t think we’ve faced anything that quick all season. Because they were such good ball-handlers, it was tough to press them, too.’’

St. Joe paid special attention to Morris, who poured in 53 points in her first two tournament games, going 25 of 34 at the foul line. Freshman guard Bailee Adkins, the defensive stopper for the Irish, guarded Morris much of the way, even on occasions when St. Joe went to a diamond-and-one defense, chasing Morris all over the court.

“I thought we could stop her because we’ve been playing as a team,’’ Adkins said, “with the trap and how we practice. I figured if she went around me, Tyesha would step up or Dina would come over and trap.’’

Morris led Williamstown with 13 points, but only four of those came in the second half, all on free throws. She finished 3 of 16 shooting.

“Ashley’s their main ball-handler,’’ Lewis said, “and we tried to keep it out of her hands, and let the other kids handle it. We were able to turn them over a little bit.’’

Adding to her defensive doings, Adkins ended her three-game tournament with 31 points, 19 steals, 16 assists and just one turnover.

“I’ll ride with her any game,’’ Lewis said. “I’ve known her since she was little, and I call her a winner. She’ll do whatever it takes to win the game, as the other kids on this team will, too. She’s always been the one who kind of makes us go on defense. On offense, she defers to whoever or gets it to whoever to get us points and get us going. She’s not really a freshman; she’s just a basketball player and a winner.’’

Alexis Hall also reached double figures for the Irish with 12 points, and Taylor yanked down nine rebounds. Jarrells, a transfer from Tolsia who played in last year’s Class AA state tournament, also had five steals Saturday. Brooke Stewart had eight rebounds for the Jackets.

Contact Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @RickRyanWV.

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