Girls basketball: South Charleston moves on to state tournament
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- South Charleston freshman forward Rhea Smith picked up her second foul with 3:53 remaining in the first quarter of a Class AAA Region 3 girls basketball co-final Wednesday night, sending the tallest player in the SC lineup to the bench for an early breather.
The development could have been a boon to visiting Woodrow Wilson if not for the work of Black Eagle junior Aryaunne Mosley, whose 11-point, 11-rebound, three-steal performance highlighted a 68-47 rout that sent SC back to the state tournament after a one-year absence.
"We'd been working on it the past few days. Coach told us that it's going to be determined by the inside play so me and Rhea had to work together," Mosley said. "We kind of dominated inside starting from the beginning. We knew that we had to start off right to get the game going."
South Charleston missed the 2013 tournament while coach Gary Greene took a one-year sabbatical. Prior to that, the Black Eagles (20-3) reached the tournament in five consecutive seasons and in eight of the previous 10 years.
SC finished the game with a 44-27 advantage on the glass and led 38-24 at halftime, but a third-quarter run sparked by Woodrow guard Aaliyah Williams drew the Flying Eagles (7-13) to within 43-34 with 3 minutes left. It was at that point the game's fate was effectively sealed by what Woodrow coach James Lewis attributed to inexperience.
With momentum in her team's favor, Woodrow junior forward Courtney Maxwell took an offensive rebound on the low block and had an all-but-uncontested path to a lay-in. Instead of taking the shot, Maxwell turned to her left and kicked the ball outside to Rebekah Cook, who fired a 3-pointer that was off the mark and hauled down by Mosley.
From that point, South Charleston outscored Woodrow 25-14.
"We're not supposed to be here. We were already home by this time last year and none of these girls were varsity players last year," Lewis said. "When it comes to plays like that, simple basketball plays, we don't always make them.
"Our kids don't always play well or make the right play, but they played extremely hard," Lewis said.
SC freshman point guard Aaliyah Dunham was playing in her first regional final as well, but didn't appear to let the pressure get to her. Though she struggled from the floor with a 4-for-16 shooting performance, she finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and a game-high four assists.
"Just play hard, no matter what, no matter what the level is," Dunham said of her mindset entering the game.
She added that during the Woodrow run, she and her teammates chose to focus more on improving their defensive efforts rather than putting more pressure on themselves to score.
"Hands up on the shooters, box out, get the rebound and push it," she said. "That's what I was thinking."
Sophomore forward Taliah Cashwell helped SC pull away in the fourth, scoring seven of her 15 points. Woodrow freshman guard Aaliyah Williams, who led the Flying Eagles in scoring this season but did not enter the game until midway through the second quarter, led her team with a game-high 18 points.
Greene said SC's development since the beginning of the school year has impressed him.
"If you'd have told me in fall ball about this stuff, I would have said I don't know what's going to happen," he said. "We were just so raggedy, but it's like I said last week: these kids have heart. They have tried to do whatever we've asked them to do."
With defending state champion Parkersburg South having already clinched a state tournament berth after completing the season with an undefeated record, South Charleston - ranked fifth in the final Associated Press girls basketball poll of the regular season - will probably be seeded no higher than second for next week's state tournament. Greenbrier East (22-2) was ranked second in the final poll, and faces George Washington in another Region 3 co-final Friday in Fairlea. University and Spring Valley, ranked third and fourth in the final poll, have each been eliminated from postseason play.
"When they run the floor they're pretty good. I think we still have an upside to us, but it got us the opportunity to play this game tonight and that's all I can ask for."
The state tournament begins March 12 at the Charleston Civic Center.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at email@example.com or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT.