All year long, No. 1 Parkersburg flashed championship-level talent in dominating its Class AAA girls basketball schedule.
On Saturday night, when they had to, the Big Reds showed championship-level heart.
Looking more like the team that willed its way to a state title last year as a No. 3 seed than the one that steamrolled through big-school opponents this season, Parkersburg responded when pushed into the fourth quarter, coming up with a 20-6 run across the third and fourth periods to finally put away upset-minded No. 3 University in a 63-52 win in the championship game at the Charleston Coliseum.
“Someone asked me, ‘Are we worried about it if we get in a close game,’ ” Parkersburg coach Scott Cozzens said. “I told them no. We were down 14 points to the double-A state champions [Fairmont Senior] on their home floor, we cut it to 8 and won by 21. There was no panic. We went into Parkersburg South and won for the first time in 18 years. They just play. Next play, next play, next play.”
Parkersburg pounded Hampshire 81-18 in the tournament’s opening round and led by as many as 26 against South Charleston before settling for a 16-point win in a semifinal on Friday. That 16-point victory marked the closest game Parkersburg played against a Mountain State Athletic Conference team all season.
But the Hawks were unfazed on Saturday, leading as late as 1:32 left to go in the third quarter at 37-35 after two free throws for Zoe Murphy. The Hawks were also successful bottling up Big Reds stars Shay-Lee Kirby and Madi Mace for the most part.
But the third of Parkersburg’s big trio, Bre Wilson, had a monster night, scoring 27 points, including six 3-pointers, each of which seemed to come from deeper and deeper, and all of them seemed to land like an anvil on University’s hopes.
“That’s hard as a coach,” University coach David Price said. “Because that deep, what would your percentage be? You’re saying to yourself, ‘That’s going to run out,’ and it didn’t. You’ve got to give her a lot of credit, that girl was focused man.”
“I don’t really know,” Wilson said. “It’s just comfortable for me to shoot right there I guess. We shoot so much during practice it helps a lot during the game.”
Wilson finished 10 for 15 from the floor and added five rebounds and four steals and yet — in the tournament’s only real surprise of the week — was left off the all-tournament team. She missed last year’s title game after injuring her knee in a semifinal against Parkersburg South, an injury that kept her out through the first six games of this season as well.
Kirby, who became the school’s all-time leading scorer during the fourth quarter, was held to just two points at halftime with Mace scoring three. The two finished with 11 and 10, respectively, well below their season averages, and combined to shoot just 6 for 25 from the floor and 1 for 9 from 3.
But Wilson’s points weren’t the only difference. After turning it over just eight times in the first half, the Hawks (22-5) committed 16 in the second as Parkersburg utilized a halfcourt 1-3-1 trapping zone to speed up University sets.
“They played us as well as anyone has since last year’s final, let’s just be real,” Cozzens said. “One of the few teams we faced that some of our pressure didn’t seem to phase them much so we just had to find a way to take advantage of what we do in some other ways. Hats off to the kids, every time they’ve felt adversity, they’ve done that.
“We knew we were giving up some baskets, we just had to score some baskets, but if we kept a certain pace, maybe they’d wear down.”
After University took its last lead on Murphy’s free throws, Mace hit a pair of free throws to give the Big Reds the lead back, setting up a final key sequence.
University found itself in a trap but called a timeout. Coming out of the break, however, the Hawks threw the ball away and it led to a fast-break layup for Kristen Lowers as the horn sounded to put Parkersburg up four.
Parkersburg went up by six on an Aleea Crites layup to start the fourth, with University coming up with one more answer on a 3 by Murphy and two free throws from Boggs. But the next nine points belonged to the Big Reds as Parkersburg pushed its lead into double figures. It never came under nine again.
“I definitely want to give it up to our girls for the battle they just put out there,” Price said. “At the end of the day, it was the gamut of all those games one day after another. I think we just ran out of bodies and Parkersburg showed why they are a state championship team.”
Murphy led University with 15 points with Mallory Napolillo going for 14, 10 rebounds and five steals and Boggs finishing with 13.