CHARLESTON W.Va.– For 41 years now, the WVSSAC State Basketball Tournament has brought the state’s best 24 girls high school teams to Charleston to compete in three classifications for the right to display the state champion crown for a year.
This time around we found some not so familiar teams on hand in Charleston attempting to make a name for themselves and who knows, maybe even start an annual tradition.
Two teams from Wheeling made the trip down to Charleston. Both Wheeling Park (AAA) and Wheeling Central Catholic (A) had great seasons and played the defense necessary to go deep into a state championship run.
With three time defending state champ Morgantown not in the mix this year, senior laden Huntington was this season’s top Class AAA team. The Highlanders were led by Jordyn Dawson (Xavier University), a do-it-all player that completely controls the game like a movie director. Buckhannon-Upshur featured a team that could challenge Huntington. Hanna McClung is a real-deal point-guard and was looking to derail Dawson and Huntington’s goal of winning a state championship.
Class AA featured a newcomer in the number one seed position. Bluefield 2016 – 17 squad was young, scrappy and talented. The Beavers are led by a flashy, strong-willed, freshman, point-guard Jaisah Smith. Get used to seeing them around for a couple more years, at least.
Summers County came into the tournament in semi-familiar territory. Seeded number one in Class A in 2017 after holding the same spot in Class AA a year ago. The Justice twins (Brittney and Whittney) were a nightmare to guard and wearing the uniform numbers 23 and 32 tends to add to the confusion.
St. Joseph Central was back for the ninth straight year and the Irish were playing with a chip on their shoulder being none too happy with a number five seed. Dena Jarrells joined the Irish after transferring from Tolsia. Jarrells joined an already talented group that is young and primed for some return trips over the next few years.
Class A Championship Game
St. Joseph Central- 64 Williamstown- 46
Two lower seeded teams met Saturday afternoon for the Class 1-A championship in Charleston. The sixth seed Williamstown Yellow Jackets were matched against the surprise number five seed St. Joseph Central Irish. St. Joe’s tough “national schedule” and the private school recruiting controversy backlash that occurs in almost every state, played a big part in St. Joe’s seed that is voted on by fellow coaches.
St. Joe’s returned to this year’s title game for the ninth straight year, having won seven in a row before Gilmer County knocked them off in a major 2016 upset.
From the beginning, the Irish’s defense was on point. They took a little different tact into how to handle Williamstown super senior pointguard Ashley Morris. Morris is a scoring machine, tallying 78 points in the three-game regional tournament and adding 53 in the two games leading up to the Class 1-A final.
In the past, teams have approach Morris with a couple people picking her up early full-court or even trying to deny her the ball. The problem with that strategy is Morris is a quick, fast ballhandler that you end up chasing with no return on the effort. The Irish picked Morris up after she caught the ball and trapped her from hash-mark to hash-mark. The resulting 10 Williamstown first quarter turn-overs produced nine St. Joseph points, putting the Yellow Jackets into an early 21-9 hole.
The defensive strategy deployed by St. Joe’s endured several Williamstown time-outs, a couple of Yellow Jacket’s spurts, and in the end propelled the Irish to a 64-46 win. Although Ashley Morris got her share of points, producing 13 and 5 rebounds in 28 minutes, the Yellow Jackets were held to just 27 percent from the field and their 20 turnovers accounted for 22 Irish points.
Offensively St. Joseph Central is loaded and can score in similar and different ways. The Irish depth just keeps coming and there is too much talent to defend everyone. St. Joseph Central has three players averaging double-figures and that number could easily be five or six.
Early the Irish were led by junior Alexis Hall’s 10 first half points on 2 for 3 from the three point line. Hall, who had struggled at times this season to reach her 2015-16 totals, only added two more second half points to her total, but it was one point more than her season average and her best all-around game of the tournament.
Senior Tyesha Taylor tallied 8 points and 9 rebounds in her final appearance in Charleston as a member of the Irish. Ball handling wizard, Dena Jarrells chipped in 17 points, sophomore transfer (Tolsia) was the Irish’s leading scorer, while All-Tournament selection Paige Shy added 15.
Fellow All-Tournament Team member, Bailee Adkins, only a freshman, led all players in the Class A tournament, averaging 6.3 steals and 5.3 assists per game. On Saturday, she finished with 6 points, 8 assists, 8 steals and no turnovers.
The Irish train looks to be tuned-up and back on track. They lose only two seniors and four of their leading scorers are underclassmen.
2017 WVSSAC Class A All-Tournament Team
Dena Jarrells- St. Joseph Central
Paige Shy- St. Joseph Central
Bailee Adkins- St. Joseph Central
Tyesha Taylor- St. Joseph Central
Ashley Morris- Williamstown
Samantha Dedrick- Williamstown
Whittney Justice- Summers County
Taylor Duplaga- Wheeling Central Catholic
Class AA Championship Game
Bluefield- 42 Fairmont Senior- 54
Number two seed Fairmont Senior was appearing in their third straight Class AA title game. Their opponent was a relative newcomer to the state finals. The Bluefield Beavers, seeded number one, are scrappy bunch of kids, led by a freshman point-guard, Jaisah Smith. She’s a dynamic scorer and ball-handler that plays like every possession is her last.
Using pressure defense with no excuses, the Polar Bears are always fun to watch, but that approach has not always translated into championships.
Fairmont Senior tends to get into foul trouble in the final game the past couple of seasons. Coach Corey Hines adjusted things slightly to help ensure that the Polar Bears would have their top players to call upon when the final horn blew.
Fairmont Senior still pressured the Beavers. The Polar Bears varied their presses between full, three quarter and half court. The change caused the Beavers to hesitate and the strategy worked for Fairmont Senior. At the half, Smith had 5 points and Fairmont Senior had only committed 5 total team-fouls (4in the first quarter) while still forcing 10 turnovers that gave the Polar Bears 10 additional points. Fairmont Senior took a 27-15 lead into the locker room.
Bluefield is competitive considering their youth (only two seniors), and after the Polar Bear lead ballooned to as much as 17 points in the third quarter, the Beavers never gave up. Bluefield scratched and clawed to within seven at 49-42 with just 40 seconds left in the fourth, but there wasn’t enough clock left and Beavers fell prey to the Polar Bears 54-42.
Unsigned senior, Erica Bowles was the Fairmont’s high scorer with 23 points and 8 rebounds while fellow senior Abby Stoller (Fairmont State) added 6 points and 11 rebounds. An emerging star, sophomore Anysa Jordan, who already has a few division one offers, added 17 and 12 rebounds for the Polar Bears.
Bluefield’s scoring was paced by Jaisah Smith with 12 points, while Autumn Spangler and Dani Janutolo each added 10 points for the Beavers.
Fairmont Senior made up for their previous championship game short-comings by taking their first Class AA title since 1997.
2017 WVSSAC Class AA All-Tournament Team
Erica Bowles- Fairmont Senior
Abby Stoller- Fairmont Senior
Anysa Jordan- Fairmont Senior
Jaisah Smith- Bluefield
Dani Janutolo- Bluefield
Autumn Spangler- Bluefield
Zakorrah Russell- Winfield
Christa Tobin- North Marion
Class AAA Championship Game
Huntington- 72 Buckhannon-Upshur- 54
In a game that was closer than the final score indicates, Huntington High School completed the 2017 girls’ basketball state tournament on Saturday night with a 72-54 win over Buckhannon-Upshur for the Class AAA championship.
The first half was like a chess match, each team taking their turn at solving the other’s defense. After 16 minutes the game was tied at 24 as the teams retired to their locker rooms.
Jordyn Dawson, a Xavier University recruit, had 17 points for Huntington but fellow senior, Mariah Harmon, the Highlander’s second leading scorer, had only two points with foul trouble limiting her to only 8 minutes of play.
In the visitor’s locker room the Buccaneers may have felt good about where they were at the break. Hanna McClung did have two personal fouls, but she, along with senior center Makayla Reynolds, had six points each plus the team only had committed five turnovers while shooting 42.9 percent in the first half.
The chess match continued in the third quarter, with good news coming for the Highlanders as Mariah Harmon, was on the floor, out of foul trouble and scoring. Harmon had 10 points in the quarter and Huntington was able build a small lead 44-40 after three periods.
Hanna McClung picked up her fourth foul with 6:32 to go in the game. Without McClung, Buckhannon-Upshur was not only able to close the gap to two at 46-44 with 6:13 to go, they also had the ball with a chance to tie. In the ensuing possession, however, everything changed for the Bucs as they missed three straight shot opportunities and fouled Harmon on the rebound.
After making both ends of a one-and-one and with Hanna McClung on the bench, the Highlanders smelled blood. Huntington turned the Buc’s over on four consecutive possessions, bringing McClung back in the game at the 5:21 mark for Buckhannon-Upshur.
Huntington cashed in the turnovers and as a bonus fouled McClung out on one of several offensive rebounds that they capitalized on. With the freethrows the Highlander’s lead was 12 with 3:58 to go.
Without the Buc’s prolific point-guard in the game, the Highlanders slowly pulled away and at the final Buzzer Huntington had their Class AAA championship with a 72-54 victory.
Huntington was led by Jordyn Dawson’s all-star performance of 28 points, 12 rebounds and 4 steals, followed by Mariah Harmon’s 19 points (17 in the second half) 6 rebounds and 6 steals. Lexi Sheffield chipped in 14 points going 11 of 12 at the free-throw line.
Buckhannon-Upshur got 24 points from Makayla Reynolds along with 8 rebounds while Hanna McClung and Allie Robinson added 8 points each.
2017 WVSSAC Class AAA All-Tournament Team
Jordyn Dawson- Huntington
Mariah Harmon- Huntington
Kearsta Turner- Huntington
Makayla Reynolds- Buckhannon-Upshur
Hanna McClung- Buckhannon-Upshur
Aaliyah Dunham- South Charleston
Lavender Ward- South Charleston
Josie Daugherty- Wheeling Park