As explosive as Huntington is, it only takes a minute, maybe two out of 32, to lose focus, and the Highlanders can capitalize enough to beat even a team that’s played perfectly the rest of the way.
Despite all the good things No. 2 Buckhannon-Upshur had done over the first three-plus quarters on Saturday evening, a costly albeit brief lack of execution cost it a game and a state championship.
A 16-4 run starting with 5:38 left in the fourth quarter broke open what had been a two-point game at 46-44 as Huntington finally began to pile up turnovers on previously sure-handed B-U, and the Highlanders ran off with a 72-54 win and a Class AAA state crown at the Charleston Civic Center.
The win gave the school its first state championship since 2000.
The Buccaneers had done a tremendous job fighting through Huntington’s press, turning the ball over just eight times through three quarters.
But Huntington added 10 to that total in the fourth quarter alone, resulting in a 28-14 quarter and, as a byproduct, a state title. Over that stretch, Huntington scored 12 of its 16 points off turnovers in the game.
“It’s a real blessing to have these type of kids that if a team lets down, we can jump on them and get them real quick,” Huntington coach Lonnie Lucas said. “In the past my teams haven’t had [a killer instinct], but these girls do. If they see an opening, they’ll take it and that’s pretty much what they’ve done all year. I’ve been here a lot with some teams that didn’t have that little burst they could do to take advantage, and these girls manage to do it.”
B-U senior guard Hanna McClung, the team’s primary ballhandler, was forced to the bench with 6:33 left in the game with her fourth foul. Shortly after returning, she fouled out with 3:58 still to go.
Much of the damage had been done already as the deficit was 10 upon McClung’s exit.
“We were right in it until the end,” B-U coach Jeremy Maxwell said. “There’s a few plays there at the end that was the difference in the game. A few foul calls, I know we got in serious fouls trouble, we had 27 fouls, they had 11 and that’s big, especially when you have two or three or four or five starters fouling out or in significant foul trouble — it’s hard to stick with a team as talented as Huntington.”
While Buckhannon was imploding, the Highlanders (25-3) did all the things they needed to win the game.
First, they made their foul shots, hitting 26 of 34 for the game including 22 of 24 in the fourth quarter.
They got big games and plays from their seniors as well, with reigning player of the year Jordyn Dawson sustaining the team with 17 of her game-high 28 points in the first half. She added 12 rebounds, three assists and four steals.
Mariah Harmon got into the act in a big way, scoring 17 of her 19 points in the second half after dealing with some early foul trouble of her own.
Lexi Sheffield hit a big 3-pointer to close the third quarter, turning a one-point game into a four-point lead. It was her only field goal of the game, but she knocked down 11 of 12 free throws down the stretch to finish with 14 points.
Kearsta Turner, the slightest player on the floor, somehow came down with five offensive rebounds to go with five points, all while locking up on defense against McClung.
The four also combined for 14 steals.
Those upperclassmen, like Fairmont State’s earlier in the day, finally got their moment after three previous trips to the state tournament and a loss in the finals to Morgantown a year ago.
“It’s hard to put it into words,” Lucas said. “These girls decided to do this when they got to high school, that they were going to be state champions, it just took them four years to accomplish their goal. I’m proud of them. They’re great kids, great friends and just been a super four years.
“It’s something they’ll remember for a long time. This will never go away.”
Makayla Reynolds had a monster game for the Buccaneers, scoring 24 points (the team’s only double-digit scorer) to go with eight rebounds, but she also finished with four fouls.
McClung and Alli Robinson each finished with eight points.