CHARLESTON - The third time proved to be the charm for Parkersburg South as the Patriots advanced to the Class AAA state championship game for the first time since winning it all in 2008 with a 54-51 come-from-behind win Friday night against a Morgantown squad that had handed them a pair of losses during the regular season
Freshman sensation Taryn McCutcheon tallied a game-high 23 points - including the Patriots' final 10 of the game - as PSHS (19-7) got past its Two Rivers Athletic Conference rivals for the first time this season.
"After you play someone two times, you begin to know them," said veteran Parkersburg South head coach Scott Stephens. "There is a bit of familiarity when you play a team three times and it showed in that first half.
Photos by Action Images
Parkersburg South’s Taryn McCutcheon, center, attempts a pass between two Morgantown defenders during their Class AAA state semifinal game Friday.
"We didn't do a good job of running our offense and they were outhustling us to every loose ball and that was the biggest difference. In the second half, we settled down and got into our offense a little bit better."
The game was nip-and-tuck from the beginning with Parkersburg South finding itself down by eight, 31-23, after the first 16 minutes of action.
That margin would be sliced to two, 31-29, over the first 90 seconds of the third quarter as a pair of inside buckets by senior Miranda Workman, sandwiched around a pair of free throws by sophomore Keya Bartlett, turned the game into a one-possession affair.
Morgantown (20-6) answered with a 5-1 run, thanks to a triple by Haley Holloway and an inside deuce by Emily Sabatino, to push its lead back to seven, 37-30, with 3:22 showing the clock.
Those, however, would be the last points for the Mohigans over the next three minutes as South, behind the play of McCutcheon and Bartlett, went on a 7-0 run to knot the contest at 37 with 25 ticks left in the quarter.
Holloway, who finished with seven points, nailed a short jumper with six seconds left to give the Mohigans a two-point lead heading into the final quarter of play.
And what a final eight minutes of action it would be.
McCutcheon, like she has so many times during her first season of varsity basketball, got things rolling with a triple to give the Patriots their first lead since the 6:16 mark of the first quarter.
Morgantown answered with a layup by Sabatino to regain the lead, 41-40, with five minutes left to play. The Patriots would then put together a 6-1 spurt over the next three minutes to take a 46-42 lead. But a pair of free throws by the Mohigans' Leah Taylor sliced the margin to two, 46-44, and a steal by Morgantown's Alicia Golden resulted in two more freebies by the Mohigans to knot the game at 46 with 74 seconds left to play.
That was all the time the diminutive McCutcheon needed as she bobbed and weaved her way through the Morgantown defense and made the Mohigans pay every time they made the mistake of fouling her.
"I literally just closed my eyes and prayed," said McCutcheon. "I tried not the think about the first two that I had missed and reminded myself that I have shot these (free throws) a million times and that I can shoot them tonight."
And shoot them McCutcheon did as she nailed all eight of her attempts down the stretch to keep Morgantown at bay. Her final two with 4.1 ticks on the clock staked the Patriots to a three-point, 54-51, lead and a Taylor triple try, near the halfcourt line, hit the front of the rim as the buzzer sounded.
No. 3 seed Parkersburg South started the game fast, but it was No. 2 seed Morgantown that finished the first half strong as a triple by senior Caroline Colombo sent the Mohigans into the locker rooms with an eight-point, 31-23, lead.
Two free throws by freshman Carlie Wilson and an eight-foot floater by McCutcheon staked the Patriots to a quick 4-0 lead with 6:10 remaining in the opening quarter.
Morgantown answered with a 12-2 run over the next four minutes.
Colombo ignited the run with a triple off of an Allison Thompson feed and Taylor closed the spurt with a pair of free throws by Haley Holloway with 1:02 showing on the clock.
The Patriots finally got back on the scoreboard on a pair of McCutcheon free throws, but trailed by four, 12-8, heading into the second quarter of action.
The second eight minutes of play was dominated by both offenses as the teams combined for 34 points - 19 by the Mohigans.
Parkersburg South pulled to within four, 21-17, on a Bartlett trey, but Morgantown answered with a 5-0 run to push the margin to nine, 26-17, with 3:02 left in the half.
Five straight points by Bartlett sliced the deficit to six, 28-22, with 1:27 remaining to be played. However, the Patriots would only receive a single point, on an Anna Hayton free throw, while Colombo's final triple of the half with one tick on the clock accounted for the halftime margin.
Bartlett finished with 14 points and five steals in the game while Hayton chipped in with 11 rebounds. Morgantown's Taylor was the only player to reach double-digits for the Mohigans, finishing with 14.
Parkersburg South, which won state titles in 2006 and 2008, will square off against Logan at 7:15 p.m. today for another state crown.