Shay-Lee Kirby, one of a trio of Parkersburg players averaging in double figures, looked around with 1:48 to go and was suddenly the only one of the Big Reds’ main options left.
Bre Wilson was out with a knee injury sustained in Friday night’s semifinal win over Parkersburg South, and Madi Mace fouled out late in the fourth quarter Saturday with the game and a Class AAA state title hanging in the balance.
No. 1 Buckhannon-Upshur used an 8-2 run to draw even with just 10.9 seconds to go, using a pair of Ashton Maxwell free throws with 10.9 seconds left to square the game.
But after being fouled at halfcourt with 7.5 ticks left in a 47-47 contest, Kirby, just a sophomore, stepped to the line and, with two flicks of her wrist, buried the Bucs and delivered a girls basketball state championship to the Big Reds.
Kirby finished with 12 points, but no two in her career so far have been close to as big as those two final free throws that put the Big Reds ahead 49-47, a score that would stick as a final shot with one second left from Hanna McClung sailed wide.
“During the timeout I had to go over there and wipe the pee running down my leg,” Kirby said with a laugh. “Coach said, ‘You’ve done this 1,000 times,’ and during practice they’re yelling in my ears and making noise, you just have to tune it out and shoot it.”
It was intense, extremely physical and both defenses that pushed the teams into Saturday night’s title game showed up in spades.
Parkersburg (22-6) turned the ball over 34 times in a title-game win. Buckhannon-Upshur (26-2) scored 29 points off those miscues compared to just six points for the Big Reds off turnovers.
But the Big Reds held B-U to just 25.8-percent shooting from the field and 1 of 9 to end the game. Parkersburg also enjoyed a 42-32 advantage on the boards.
“These kids, what can you say about them?” Parkersburg coach Scott Cozzens said. “Our 21st road game of the year, we weren’t sure where we were going to get offense today. We ran zero offensive sets today.
“It wasn’t pretty, but this team believes in each other. They have a competitive fire that is rare to see in young kids.”
During Friday night’s press conference after his team’s win over rival Parkersburg South, Cozzens called sophomore Aleea Crites one of his “four horsemen” [along with Wilson, Kirby and Mace] and promised the state would hear much more about her in time.
Little could he have known, her time would come in less than 24 hours.
With Buckhannon-Upshur riding the energy raining down from a packed and partial Buccaneers crowd, Crites came up with the key buckets in a game-turning spurt late in the fourth-quarter, scoring seven points in an 11-2 run. She’d finish with 11 points and 10 rebounds, one of two double-doubles for Parkersburg as Mace finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds.
“She played her biggest game on the biggest stage,” Cozzens said. “Here’s a young lady, we’re trying to get her to come out of her shell. We saw some of it last night, we saw more today, she’s a kid you’re going to hear more about in the next couple of years I’m sure. We believe in her, the team believes in her, now if she’d just believe in herself.”
While that stretch would give the Big Reds breathing room, it would be fleeting as Parkersburg went cold and Mace went to the bench.
The Bucs used a pair of foul shots from Lauren Bennett, a 3-pointer by McKinley Gaudet and those clutch Maxwell free throws to draw even at 47 inside of 11 seconds to go.
Bennett was called for the foul on Kirby after the ensuing inbound pass as the two made contact all the way down the floor. Kirby got away with a questionable travel and initiated contact with Bennett but did what she had to do to get the deciding call. With the arena erupting, Kirby never cracked and never faltered.
A year ago, a Parkersburg team full of freshmen made it to the Civic Center and arrived a little wide-eyed, falling to South Charleston in the first round.
A season and a new coach later, those youngsters developed the maturity to pull through in tough moments on the biggest stage. Saturday’s win reversed a 65-38 decision in favor of the Buccaneers on Dec. 16. South had beaten Parkersburg twice prior to Friday’s win by the Big Reds. But as the Patriots and Buccaneers found out, Parkersburg was not the same team in March as it was earlier this season.
“We wanted to win,” Mace said. “We wanted to last year too but I think this year — there had been problems with being selfish and this year we put everything aside and said, ‘We’re getting the W,’ and that’s what we did.”
For Buckhannon-Upshur, it marked the second straight loss in the title game after the Buccaneers fell to Huntington a year ago.
McClung, the team’s senior point guard, embodied and led the team that had reached the state tournament all four seasons with one goal in mind — winning a state championship.
McClung collapsed to the ground as the horn sounded. Fellow seniors Bennett and Gaudet were understandably torn up too.
The two finished with 40 of B-U’s 47 points, with McClung ending with 22, including 15 of the team’s 16 first-half points. Bennett finished with 18 points to go with 15 rebounds and nine steals. She also set the tournament steals record with 27, breaking Renee Montgomery’s mark of 19 in 2003.
“It hurts right now, losing the state championship again,” McClung said. “Even though we lost today, I see us winning every day because we brought a community together and inspired people every single time on the court, and that’s our purpose.”