By Stephen Smoot
Two weeks prior, the Lady Wildcats traveled on a lazy unseasonably warm February afternoon to compete against the Pocahontas County High School Warriors. Playing varsity basketball on a sunny weekend afternoon tends to thwart the drive to exert and dominate.
In the previous meeting, the Warriors hung with the Wildcats until the half. Then their discipline cracked, Pendleton County surged ahead and won the game handily.
Last Friday night, the atmosphere could not have been more different. The home standing Wildcats enjoyed a full house supporting them. Expectations from both teams were high in the electrified post season environment.
Where the Wildcats last time toyed with their opponent for two quarters as a cat does a mouse, this time they dispatched Pocahontas County quickly and ruthlessly.
The home team controlled the tip off and immediately drew blood with an Avery Townsend three-point goal only 30 seconds into the contest. The Wildcats immediately went into a full court man to man press that forced a traveling violation on the Warriors’ first possession.
Pendleton County’s defense set the tone early. Gabby DePue blocked a shot with just over a minute gone by. The Warriors answered with a layup at the 6:23 mark, but did not score again for almost three and a half minutes. In the meantime, Ana Young and DePue both took steals. Young also hit a three-pointer at the five-minute mark, followed by two made free throws shortly thereafter to give her team a 10-2 lead.
Later in the quarter after a Warrior layup, Townsend found DePue underneath for a layup. Jameigh Miller stepped into a passing lane and got a steal of her own, leading to a possession where Young buried a 23-foot three to push the lead to 17-6. A Townsend three with time running off the clock set the first quarter ending score at 26-7.
Young and Townsend opened the second quarter with 17-foot shots. The Wildcats continued to throttle their opponents on defense, with Lizzie Alt getting a steal at the 6:44 point. She followed that with a 10-foot basket to give her team a 32-7 lead. Alt found the basket again three minutes later on a Nataley Hedrick assist, then took a pass from Young in for a layup to push the lead to 43-17.
Jenna Smith, Townsend, and Hedrick each racked up a steal in the waning minutes of the half, which ended in a Pendleton County lead of 45-20.
Young and Townsend kept the door shut on their opponents in the opening minutes of the second half. Young swiped a pass with only 20 seconds gone, then hit a three at the 7:22 mark. Next, Townsend took the ball coast to coast for a layup. Then Young and Townsend worked a give and go play that ended in a Townsend layup, making the score 52-20. That was followed by a DePue three from the right wing with almost five minutes left in the third. Baylee Beachler continued her team’s defensive dominance by blocking a shot and combining with Young on a steal. Madison Arbaugh also contributed several minutes of strong defense and rebounding.
The last minute of the third and first minute of the fourth quarter, however, was Miller time. The freshman forward drove down the lane and laid a finger roll into the basket with 42 left in the third, a play that she repeated in the waning seconds after combining with Hedrick to gain a steal. Miller then opened the fourth with a three-point shot.
Pendleton County kept the strong effort going through the final seconds of the game. Kiera Heavener used slick dribbling and a step back move to hit a three, then buried a deep two point shot later. Julia Mongold drove the lane, evaded defenders, and scored an open layup to set the score at 72-28.
The final score of the sectional title game was a 75-30 Pendleton County victory.
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