State Tournament: Shafer, Grizzlies slip past Huskies
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There were a lot of shots that didn't fall for Nicholas County in its Class AA state tournament quarterfinal game against North Marion.
Appropriately, the ones that did were the 15-foot, uncontested set shots.
One that did was a Makayla Willis hit a 3-pointer to tie the game with 3:50 left before Shealyn Shafer hit four free throws in the final 3 minutes to lead the Grizzlies to a 47-42 victory over the Huskies (18-5) at the Charleston Civic Center on Thursday.
Shafer was 10-of-12 from the foul line, where she scored most of her 15 points for Nicholas County (20-3), which will face Bridgeport (22-2) at 11:15 a.m. today.
Nicholas County has been to the state tournament four times as a Class AAA team (1997-99, 2001), but was making its first in Class AA. This also is the Grizzlies' first trip to the semifinals.
"The last time Nicholas County was at the state tournament, this one (Shafer) was in the first grade, that one (Mykenzie Martin) hadn't started yet and that one (Willis) might've been in preschool," said Nicholas County Coach Tom McGirl, pointing to the players as he spoke. "This is something the kids have wanted to do for a long time."
As for North Marion, the Huskies returned to the state tournament after a one-year hiatus that followed a run of three Class AAA titles.
The battle between No. 3 seed Nicholas County and No. 6 North Marion didn't disappoint, although the teams combined to hit 24.5 percent. The Grizzlies were 13-of-51, and actually shot better from 3-point range (27.8) than from inside the arc (25.5).
Nicholas also had twice as many turnovers as North Marion (24-12), but countered that with a 55-32 edge in rebounding.
"We weren't real sharp with the basketball early on, but these kids have a lot of heart and a lot of character," McGirl said. "I knew they'd eventually play their way out of it."
There were 13 lead changes and eight ties, but the last one came with 3:50 left, when Willis - a 5-foot-8 junior - hit a 3-pointer to after North Marion had taken a 40-37 lead on a jumpshot by freshman Megan Haller.
Nichole Hamilton, one of four seniors for Nicholas, then gave the Grizzlies the lead for good on her only basket of the game at the 2:57 mark.
Shafer then took over from the foul line, hitting two free throws for a 44-40 lead at 1:08 and two more for a six-point advantage with 39 seconds remaining.
The 5-11 forward missed two free throws with 6:17 left that would've extended a Nicholas lead to five. However, those were her only misfires from the line.
Shafer, the all-time leading scorer at Nicholas County with 1,310 points, finished with 15 rebounds and six blocked shots.
"Free throws win ballgames, that's what I've always heard," Shafer said. "Always live by that, in the gym, after practice, shooting free throws during the summer, always getting free throws up. That's the last thing you do before you leave the gym, you shoot free throws. It pays off."
The Huskies hoped to counter with 6-2 Noca Singleton, but one of only two seniors for North Marion attempted just three shots, but had 10 rebounds and five blocks.
"Coming down to the end, we missed some shots they made some shots," North Marion Coach Michael Parrish said. "You have to take advantage of every opportunity you get and we missed a few opportunities with some layups and putbacks."
Their putback opportunities didn't match those of Nicholas, with the Grizzlies holding a 22-13 edge on offensive rebounds, but the Grizzlies held only a 9-4 edge in second-chance points - which happened to be difference in the final score.
"I thought their girls wanted it a little bit more than ours did," Parrish said. "We were going after it, but we weren't going after it strong, boxing out. That's one of the things you talk about all year. Rebounding is key to the game.
"With a rebounding edge of 55-32 you'd think we lost by 30."
Haller finished with a team-high 17 points for North Marion, while senior Audia Bartlett and junior Anna Marie Moscufo had 10 apiece.
Lauren Young contributed 10 points and 10 rebounds for Nicholas.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4837.