BECKLEY — For roughly 46 seconds, Woodrow Wilson worked the ball around and around, looking for any crack in the St. Albans defense.
With the final seconds winding off, Liz Cadle had to make her own gap. She squeezed in between St. Albans defenders Tiara Jackson and Kalie Swearingen and hit a running jumper as time expired in regulation to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Once there, the host Flying Eagles rode the momentum, Cloey Frantz hit two big free throws and Woodrow punched a ticket to the state tournament with a thrilling 58-52 win in front of a raucous crowd in a Class AAA Region 3 girls basketball co-final.
“It just broke down,” Woodrow coach Brian Nabors said. “We told them, ‘If we couldn’t get into a good look that we wanted, we know we could go to overtime and win it.’ If we had an open 3 to win the game, we’d have taken it.”
Cadle’s heroics and Woodrow’s solid extra period eclipsed quite a journey in getting there, one that saw the visiting Red Dragons (11-14) down 11 points at halftime and as many as 13 in the third quarter.
But senior point guard Jaden McDaniels was in no hurry to end her career, scoring 19 of her game-high 30 points after halftime and doing that damage while in foul trouble after picking up three fouls in the first half.
St. Albans ended the third quarter on a 12-3 run with Woodrow taking a 39-36 lead into the fourth. A 3-pointer from McDaniels midway through the period gave St. Albans a 47-44 lead, its first advantage since leading 18-17 early in the second quarter.
Laken Ball hit two free throws on the other end to cut the deficit to 47-46, and then McDaniels hit one of two with 55.4 seconds left to make the score 48-46.
Woodrow called a timeout and, after running the clock down to 17.1 seconds, called another, setting up what would turn into Cadle’s game-tying bucket.
St. Albans led one more time, 52-50 in the extra period on a basket from Aamyah Washington, but the last eight points of the game belonged to Woodrow. McDaniels fouled out with SA down two with 30.9 seconds left and four free throws by Frantz sealed the deal.
On Jan. 25, Woodrow lost its fifth straight game to fall to 4-7. Among that stretch was a 30-point loss at St. Albans.
Since then, the Flying Eagles are 10-3, and Nabors believes his squad could still have some magic in it once it arrives at the Charleston Civic Center next week.
“We’re getting rewarded for the fruits of our labor,” Nabors said. “We’re not done yet. This is great, it’s a great accomplishment, I’m glad to accomplish this and we’re going to enjoy it and then we’re going to Charleston. We’re going to make some noise in Charleston.”
The Red Dragons were trying to return to the state tournament for the second straight year and fell just short. McDaniels did her part, adding five rebounds, six assists and seven steals to her 30 points, but the rest of the team was just 9 for 31 from the floor. McDaniels will leave as the program’s all-time scoring leader.
“She has been a four-year blessing and she’s meant a lot to our program,” SA coach Scott Tweedy. “It’s going to be odd not having her around, it seems like she’s been around forever. I give her credit. She’s battled through a lot of stuff a lot of kids wouldn’t have battled through. She shows up every day, she don’t say hardly anything, she just goes out there and leaves it all on the court.”
As for his message to the team afterward, Tweedy gave both sides a lot of credit but was proud of the way his team battled in a hostile atmosphere and facing a steep second-half climb.
“I’m proud of our girls, we were down 11 at the half and I challenged them at halftime,” Tweedy said. “I said, ‘We’ve come too far and been through too much to let it go like this.’
“I’m proud of my kids, I really am. We put ourselves in a position to win the game and a kid stepped up and made a shot.”
Cadle finished with 10 points and her buzzer beater was her only bucket of the second half. Ball and Frantz both finished with 12 for the Flying Eagles.
Woodrow Wilson will be the No. 7 seed in the state tournament and will face No. 2 Parkersburg South in the quarterfinals at 11:15 a.m. on Wednesday, March 7 at the Charleston Civic Center.