Girls Wayne-Wyoming East

Wyoming East’s Jazz Blankenship (left) steals the ball from Wayne’s Whitney Sansom.

The defensive-minded Wayne girls basketball team lived up to its billing again Friday, especially early, limiting No. 2 Wyoming East offensively and keeping itself in the game — for a while.

But great teams find ways to win and, as notoriously good as the No. 3 Pioneers are on defense, the Warriors were good enough to beat Wayne at its own game.

Wyoming East (24-3) held Wayne to 23.4 percent shooting, and although star guard Jazz Blankenship and center Emily Saunders struggled at times offensively, they came up with eight steals and seven blocks, respectively, as the Warriors pulled away with a 54-29 win in a Class AA semifinal at the Charleston Coliseum.

East advanced the title game for the third time in four years and will take on No. 1 Fairmont Senior at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. The Polar Bears defeated Frankfort 61-38 in Friday’s late semifinals..

“I think the girls wanted to give me some gray hairs today,” East coach Angie Boninsegna said. “Offensively I thought we were out of sync, especially in the first half but we picked up our defensive intensity in the second half and did a much better job.”

After garnering a defensive reputation in limiting prolific scorers like Sissonville’s Laila Arthur and Nitro’s Baylee Goins, Wayne sophomore guard Haley Wallace was it again, largely taking Blankenship out of the game in halfcourt sets. But Blankenship was able to create her own opportunities, using a fast break and two consecutive steals to come up with six straight points in a pivotal 9-3 run to end the second quarter to extend East’s lead to 21-14 at the break.

Wayne senior point guard Whitney Sansom helped hold the Pioneers in the game, hitting three 3s in the second quarter, but the Pioneers were restricted at the rim by 6-foot-5 Saunders and outside shots didn’t fall nearly enough. Wayne (23-4) finished hitting just 6 of 26 from beyond the arc.

Those misses really piled up in the second half as the Pioneers made just 2 of 16 shots from deep, allowing Wyoming East to slowly stretch its lead.

Wayne coach Wade Williamson credited Saunders and the defensive activity of East’s guards for contesting outside shots and holding the Pioneers offense at bay.

“I think [East’s guards] can afford to play that way because [Saunders] cleans so many things up,” Williamson said. “I think they have a good formula for themselves and their guards are really quick and active with their hands and things and then they can force you into her.”

“We had to be aware of where their guards were because they shoot well,” Boninsegna echoed. “Our guards do a good job getting out and contesting and we got a couple blocks that kind of forced them wider and wider.”

East’s Katie Daniels finished with 14 points and Blankenship added 12. Saunders, who was named the Gatorade state player of the year early Friday morning, nearly had a triple-double with nine points and eight rebounds along with her seven blocks.

Friday marked the second semifinal loss to East in as many years for Wayne which loses seniors Sansom and Lakyn Adkins to graduation. It was far from a story book ending for Adkins, who finished with five points and five turnovers, though she did add a team-high 11 rebounds.

But a season after losing first-team All-State player Aeriel Adkins and second-teamer Maddie Wilcox, the Pioneers nearly didn’t miss a beat, losing just three games in the regular season and knocking off solid Nitro, Sissonville and Logan teams on its way back to the semifinals.

“When we started this year, I think we knew we could be pretty good but now many people did know,” Williamson said. “I think we even surprised ourselves in some ways having as good a year as we did. Anytime you’ve got seniors that start for three years [Adkins and Sansom] and played a lot of freshmen you’re going to miss them.

“You try to establish a program so we can continue this and move forward.”

“Me and Lakyn have played basketball together since we were three years old,” added an emotional Sansom. “We’ve been through it all, it’s amazing.”

Sansom led Wayne with 12 points.

Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, ryan.pritt@wvgazettemail.com or follow him on Twitter @RPritt.