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Girls basketball: Playing hard pays off for South Charleston

By Nick Brockman

NITRO, W.Va. -- South Charleston initially lacked the killer instinct though perseverance paid dividends on the road for the Black Eagles girls basketball team in an overtime thriller at Nitro.

With a 10-point second-quarter lead, South Charleston appeared poised to rout Nitro, but the Black Eagles never truly pulled away. Trailing in the final 14 seconds of regulation, South Charleston forced overtime, and never trailed in the extra period, ultimately winning 61-58.

It wasn't the best of efforts or games initially, but SC Coach John Testa said he was proud of his girls' finish.

"I told them, I said 'How many of you didn't play well tonight?,' but you kept playing hard," he said. "That's what we want."

No one embodied the forget-the-previous-play mindset more than SC sophomore Lina Villanueva, who provided the deciding plays in the final seconds of overtime.

Villanueva, a guard, connected on just 1-of-14 shots from the field, but decided the game on a crucial free throw with 11.7 seconds left in overtime.

Villanueva made the first free throw to give SC a 59-58 lead. The second attempt missed but Villanueva secured a steal as Nitro attempted to move up court. Villanueva got the ball to Alliyah Webb for a layup, and Nitro could not get off a potential game-tying 3-pointer.

South Charleston escaped with the win, though Nitro out-efforted the Black Eagles, Testa said.

"They played harder than we did," he said. "We didn't play hard. We thought it was going to come to us. We got to go earn it, we have to go get. We want it, go take it."

In the final seconds of regulation and then overtime, the Black Eagles took control.

Down one with 14 seconds left in regulation, freshman Taliah Cashwell buried a 3-pointer from the corner with no hesitation off a designed in-bounds play. The shot gave SC a 53-51 advantage.

Nitro's Savannah Shamblin sank two free throws, however, as she wisely drew a foul on the ensuing Wildcats possession. The made shots essentially forced overtime as neither team attempted a shot in the final 6 seconds.

During overtime, the Black Eagles struck first and maintained a two-point lead until Shamblin nailed a pull-up jumper with 38 seconds to tie the contest once again.

Villanueva's plays in the final 12 seconds at the line and then with a steal sealed the win for SC.

For Nitro, Shamblin paced the Wildcats with 19 points as the team's go-to scorer. Shamblin fought through SC's defensive pressure throughout the night to leave her mark.

When Shamblin couldn't do it herself, her teammates came through, as Nitro Coach Will Samuels said he instructed Shamblin to let others carry the load.

"I said they're going to come out and they're going to double team you, they're going to triple team you at times,'" he said. "'You got to trust us. These girls here, they're out here playing hard. They can do it. They're confident. Give them the ball, let them make the play,' and she did a great job of buying into that and really kept us in the game the fourth quarter."

Meanwhile, Cashwell carried the Black Eagles with a game-high 22 points off the bench.

South Charleston returns to action to play at Jefferson 2:30 p.m. Saturday, while Nitro next plays at Ripley 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.


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