In the season’s first matchup between No. 2 Winfield and No. 9 Nitro, the Generals used a 30-4 run in the second half to blow open a close game in cruising to a 72-44 win.
This time around, Winfield (19-2) wasn’t about to wait that long to get going.
Using a 12-of-15, first-quarter shooting barrage, the Generals stormed out to a 27-12 lead and came up with an answer to every run Nitro mounted despite significant foul trouble in earning a 74-58 win on the road on Saturday night.
The win clinched a Cardinal Conference championship for Winfield and a win at Chapmanville on Wednesday would give the Generals a perfect 13-0 mark in league play.
On Saturday, the Generals flashed plenty of what has gotten them to this point — forcing 25 turnovers from a ferocious press, getting solid contributions off the bench and taking advantage of their scoring balance throughout the lineup.
“We had pivotal players come off the bench and make a difference,” Winfield coach Kelsey Spang said. “We had two of our starters foul out and in the third quarter they had four. We had to work strategically to utilize the players we have at their best capabilities.”
Winfield’s backcourt — leading scorer ZZ Russell and fellow senior Mara McGrew — both picked up their fourth fouls in the third quarter and fouled out midway through the fourth, thrusting reserves Emily Bryant and Kennedy Dean into the fray. Russell and McGrew combined for just 13 points on Saturday.
Russell, a first-team All-State player as a freshman during a state-semifinal run, burst onto the scene as a ninth grader and has made a name for herself statewide. While her rise to stardom was meteoric, it has been a slow burn for twin post players Emily and Lauren Hudson.
But now, just before their final postseason begins, the “Twin Towers” as they’re called are arguably playing the best ball of their career. The siblings combined for 41 points and 21 rebounds on Saturday with Lauren Hudson scoring 24 to go with nine boards and Emily Hudson registering 17 tallies, 12 rebounds, four assists and five steals.
More than just tall bodies, the two are long, athletic, possess deadly mid-range jump shots and beyond, and pass like guards both to each other and to perimeter shooters.
“Studs,” Nitro coach Pat Jones said. “Those two girls are outstanding. They’re the best inside duo in the state, that I’ve played this year. They see the court well and see the cutters — they all give you 110 percent when they’re in the game.”
Nitro, playing on its senior night, was within three at 15-12 midway through the first quarter before the Generals used an 18-0 run to go up 33-12 early in the second. Winfield led 39-24 at the break.
But the Wildcats (16-6) wouldn’t go away, scoring the first eight of the second half to close to within seven at 39-32. The Generals responded and despite their foul woes, Nitro would get no closer than eight the rest of the way.
Nitro made one final run in the fourth quarter as back-to-back 3s from Haley Carroll and Baylee Goins brought Nitro within nine at 63-54 with 3:03 remaining. Russell had just picked up her fifth foul, seemingly giving the Wildcats a golden opportunity. But Bryant, Kierstyn Doss and Lauren Hudson combined to score nine straight to finally close the door for good.
Goins, a two-time All-State selection, finished with a game-high 29 points to go with eight rebounds and seven assists. But none of it was easy, as she made 11 of 26 field goals and faced a constant double teams from Doss and, for the most part, Russell.
“We knew we had to double team Baylee to get it going,” Lauren Hudson said.
It has been Nitro’s Achilles Heel as the Wildcats haven’t been able to find consistent answers both in terms of ball handling and scoring when Goins is taking on multiple defenders.