Girls basketball: Strong first half, defense lift St. Albans
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- St. Albans freshman Torry Wilson hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key early in the third quarter against Nitro on Wednesday, giving the Red Dragons a 15-point lead in their Class AAA Region 4, Section 1 semifinal meeting at the Tex Williams Gymnasium in St. Albans.
It would be the only field goal SA would sink before just 18 seconds remained in the contest and yet, the Dragons made it stand up. Sophomore center Breanna Propst made 9-of-12 free throws in the second half alone, and SA held on for a 46-32 win.
"This has been a pattern over the last four or five games, even more than that, where we come out in the first half and play a really, really good half," St. Albans Coach Scott James said. "We did that against Hurricane. We even did that against Greenbrier East, and had the lead at halftime down at the Big Atlantic Classic.
"We had some great energy before the game. I think everybody in the gym could hear the girls in the locker room, but we've got to carry that energy over to the second half."
St. Albans had 13 steals and four blocked shots before halftime, and led the cold-shooting Wildcats 28-10 at halftime thanks to a 15-0 run through much of the second quarter. Propst's sister, junior forward Kaitlynn Propst, had all 10 of her points in the first half while sinking 4-of-5 shots from the floor.
But almost as soon as the teams emerged from their respective locker rooms at halftime, SA's age began to show. The Red Dragons - who feature eight freshmen, five sophomores and no seniors on their roster - began to show their age, or lack of it.
"We need to understand that when we've got an 18-point lead at halftime we don't need to come out and make thread-the-needle passes into the paint and things like that," James said. "We need to learn to play within ourselves, and the plays will come."
Instead, Nitro guard Savannah Shamblin finally began to find her shooter's touch in the fourth quarter. The team's leading scorer on the season, Shamblin missed nine consecutive shots and had just four points entering the fourth. Once there, she found the mark on a pair of 3-pointers, the second of which brought Nitro back to within 39-30 of the lead with 1:03 left.
It was just a matter of too little, too late.
"When we lose games that we think we can win, it seems like the first half we are beat already," Nitro Coach Will Samuel said. "I don't know if that's us coming out and not getting loose, or what it is, but the second half of every game that we've lost it's been close like that."
The 5-foot-4 Shamblin had difficulty finding open looks in the first half, as St. Albans' 3-2 matchup zone worked effectively like a box-and-one on the sophomore. She finished with a team-high 14 points on 5-of-18 shooting.
But as what was already a physical game ground toward its conclusion it was the younger Propst who emerged as a force. She finished with a team-leading 14 points and a game-high 15 rebounds to go with four steals and two blocked shots.
"It was physical. We just had to continue to fight hard and make sure they weren't getting any baskets either," she said. "We just had to keep pushing."
Wilson also scored in double figures for the Red Dragons, finishing with 10 points.
St. Albans travels to top-seeded Winfield (12-11) to face the Generals in the sectional championship game Friday night. The winner of that game will host the loser of Friday's Section 2 title game between Logan and Spring Valley in a regional co-final Feb. 26. The loser will travel to play at the winner of Section 2.
Nitro finished its season with an 11-12 mark, the most wins by a Wildcat girls team in a season since the 2008-09 team finished 17-7.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at email@example.com or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT.