MONTGOMERY — A pair of Kanawha Valley Class AAA girls basketball teams showed their early-season progression on Saturday at the FCA Hoops Classic at YMCA of Montgomery Gymnasium.
And one of Class AA’s expected area contenders has some questions to answer.
No. 7 South Charleston gutted out a 60-58 win over PikeView and St. Albans earned the first win of Shayna Gore’s coaching career in a 58-50 conquest of Class AA No. 5 Nitro. The two games were played back-to-back as part of the two-day showcase that included boys and girls games.
The win over the Panthers pushed SC out to a 4-0 start, with PikeView presenting the biggest challenge yet. Neither team led by more than six in a back-and-forth tilt that the Panthers led inside the final 20 seconds.
SC junior guard Maliha Witten drove into the lane and hit a shot with a foul with 15.4 seconds left, burying the free throw to give the Black Eagles the lead for good at 59-58. A subsequent PikeView possession resulted in a jump ball and a Kiki Terrell foul shot with a second left on the other end provided the winning margin.
It wasn’t necessarily pretty for the Black Eagles, who shot just 27 percent from the floor, but this time of year it’s all about getting better, and coach Gary Greene said there were certainly things to like on Saturday.
“They’ve got the courage and drive and if we can ever get it together and play more than 16 minutes, we might be pretty good,” Greene said. “We’re getting a lot of help off the bench too.”
Dasheya Booker, Myra Toombs and Daviya Leggett all gave the Black Eagles big minutes from their reserve roles. While it was largely a struggle offensively, Myra Cuffee, the team’s only senior, was good enough with 22 points and 12 rebounds to help see SC through. Witten finished with 17 points, and those two figure to be the driving forces behind what SC is able to do this season.
“She’s worked hard in the offseason and we’ve told these kids they’ve got to take the ball off the dribble more,” Greene said. “I think Maliha Witten is unbelievable. I don’t care how many points she gets, she’s our best on-ball defender so what she doesn’t get [offensively], she’s taking from somebody else [defensively].”
Shiloh Bailey and Makenzie Shrewsbury each had 11 points with Laken McKinney and Hannah Perdue each chipping in 10 for the Panthers (2-2).
South Charleston is one of the teams St. Albans faced in its three-game opening gauntlet against teams with a combined 9-0 record.
Facing Nitro, another team expected to do big things, the Red Dragons (1-3) finally broke through for Gore.
Using a box-and-one defense on dynamic Nitro scorer Baylee Goins, the Red Dragons seized control in the second quarter and never let go in earning a confidence-building win both for Gore and her team.
“It’s awesome, that’s the first time I’ve seen my team put together four quarters, and if we play like that, we’re going to be fine,” Gore said. “I’ve got chills just thinking about it.”
Gore has brought intensity to the sidelines and it’s been matched — at least in terms of effort — by her team. But on Saturday, the Red Dragons made the plays it needed to make in order to get into the win column.
Kiersten Eggleton scored 13 points to go with 11 rebounds and four steals and was all over the floor on both ends, coming up with big plays in the fourth quarter to help keep the Wildcats at bay. A basket by Goins early in the fourth cut St. Albans’ lead down to seven at 43-36, and the Wildcats called a timeout with possession and a chance to cut into the lead even further.
But Eggleton stole the inbounds pass and fed Megan Thornburg for a layup and, after a stop, followed up a missed shot with a stickback to push the lead back to 11.
“She’s always in the right spot, she rebounds, she does the little things for me,” Gore said of Eggleton. “She’s the glue of this team.”
While it was a celebratory moment for the Red Dragons, it was a bit of a head scratcher for the Wildcats.
Nitro entered the season ranked fifth in Class AA, and after struggling for three quarters with Hurricane earlier in the week, the Wildcats could never mount a serious threat in the second half on Saturday after trailing by 10 at halftime.
Goins had 27 points to go with eight rebounds and four steals while facing the brunt of St. Albans’ defensive pressure. But two-year starters Haley Carroll, Olivia Collier and Brooklyn Bowen combined for just eight points and the Wildcats turned the ball over 24 times.
More than that, St. Albans’ energy level — especially early — was a big difference as the Wildcats dug a hole they couldn’t claw out of.
Coach Pat Jones said the result is a good wake-up call for his team, which may undergo rotation changes moving forward.
“I told them in the locker room at halftime that this is not the team that went on a 10- or 11-game win streak last year,” Jones said. “We’re not where we need to be yet and we’re out of shape and that’s on me and that’s going to change.
“I saw some things out of some other players today that are going to affect the starting lineup. I’m going to put the kids in that want to give me 110 percent.”
Nitro (2-1) was without Lena Elkins, Danielle Ward and Patricia Ward on Saturday as all three were out of town.
Emma Parsons led the Red Dragons with 17 points with Thornburg adding 11. Emily Lancaster finished with eight points and 10 rebounds for Nitro.