Prep girls basketball: St. Marys advances to Class A title tilt

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Ever noticed when shots aren’t falling, the rim gets smaller and smaller.

Well, the rim practically closed shut for Tucker County in a Class A state semifinal girls basketball game against St. Marys Friday afternoon at the Charleston Civic Center.

The Mountain Lions connected on just 19 percent (13-of-67) from the floor and made just one field goal in the final 7 minutes as St. Marys advanced to today’s state championship with a 55-42 victory.

The Blue Devils, who meet the winner of Friday night’s game between Charleston Catholic and Huntington St. Joe, improved to 24-1 and will be making its fourth appearance in the title game in the past five years. Several seniors like Kendra Walker will be playing in their ninth state tournament game. The 6-foot-4 senior racked up a double-double against Tucker County with a game-high 21 points to go with 13 rebounds.

Tip-off today is set for 2:30 p.m.

“This is the most important state final game because this is our last chance (for the seniors) – I think we have a good shot,” Walker said. “We’re a good team and we work together really, really well.”

Also producing a double-double for the Blue Devils was Ashley Hall with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Perhaps even more impressive was the defensive role played by St. Marys point guard Mikaela Britton, who hounded Tucker County’s leading scorer Steph Betler for a full 32 minutes and left the senior frustrated after a 4-of-32 shooting effort.

“When Savannah (Ambrose) would set screens for me, Britton would come off the screens really well,” Betler said. “They also helped on that and she got up in my face, and got me a little flustered at times. So that made it a little difficult to get my shot off.

Despite their shooting woes, the Mountain Lions nearly had St. Marys trapped in a corner after erasing a 10-point second-quarter deficit and taking a 34-31 in the opening moments of the fourth quarter.

After Hall’s bucket narrowed the gap to 34-33, both sides went silent with their offensive production for several minutes.

Then all of sudden, freshman Jordan Fox takes a feed from fellow classmate Jenna Nichols and drained a 3-pointer to give St. Marys the lead for good at 36-34 with 4:51 remaining in regulation.

Fox finished with eight points, including 2-of-2 from the free throw line down the stretch.

“In practice, the girls get into a habit of hearing me say, ‘Hit it, hit it’ – I love that kid (Fox), but she doesn’t listen to nothing,” St. Marys coach Howard Meeks laughed. “I’m glad she did hit it against Tucker County because once she started shooting everybody on my team was inside the paint.

“It was a special shot.”

Fox’s first field goal of the game was followed up by Britton’s short jumper in the lane. From there, St. Marys worked the weave near center court, took time off the clock and Tucker County had to resort to fouling.

The Blue Devils were deadly at the stripe, hitting all 15 free throw attempts in the final three minutes of the game.

“It wasn’t a victory today, it was a battle,” Meeks said. “

Savannah Ambrose, one of four senior starters for Tucker County, scored just four points, but pulled down 15 rebounds and blocked five shots.

Tucker County, which will host a regular season game with St. Marys next year, closes out the campaign at 20-5.

“It stings when you lose a game you felt you could have won,” Tucker County Jim Ambrose said. “We shot the ball pretty poorly. Our defense wasn’t too bad. I didn’t think the 3-pointer by Fox was the turning point. We make some shots and it’s probably a different game.

“We figured they were going to hold the ball once they got ahead, and they did. There was that stretch in the fourth quarter where we had to start fouling and they made their foul shots.”