Girls state tourney begins Wednesday

PARKERSBURG-The last time Williamstown advanced to the W.Va. Girls State Basketball Tournament, the Yellowjackets’ opponent was the Mountain Lions from Tucker County of head coach Tom Carr.

When veteran WHS head coach Fred Sauro takes his maroon and gold clad Jackets back to the Charleston Civic Center this Wednesday for one of the four quarterfinal matchups in Class A, he will again be facing the Mountain Lions, but under the direction of a new head coach, Jim Ambrose.

While this may be his first year as the head coach at Tucker County, that doesn’t mean that Ambrose is unfamiliar with his team’s first round opponent.

“I was actually sitting in the stands last year (for Williamstown’s 86-84 win over Tucker County),” explained Ambrose. “Like so many other fans, it is so much easier to coach when you are in the stands than on that floor. So, while I didn’t get a chance to coach in that game, I feel like I learned enough from it to understand what we are up against when we take on a Williamstown.”

Williamstown, which lost in the semifinals a year ago to Wheeling Central, returns a veteran squad led by seniors Kenzie Smith (19.0 ppg), Carley Ellison (10.0), Brooke Cieslewski (13.1), Kathleen Cornell (10.4) and Sami Rea (5.7).

“They (Williamstown) are a running team,” continued Ambrose, whose Mountain Lions are the tournament’s No. 4 seed in Class A. “We are going to have to find a way to slow them down.”

Tucker County will counter with a starting five that includes seniors Amber Evans (13.9 ppg) and Hunter Radford (4.6) and juniors Stephanie Betler (14.5), Bekah Simmons (8.5) and Savannah Ambrose (5.4).

No. 5 seed Williamstown won’t be the only local team in action on Wednesday as No. 3 St. Marys (23-1) will open the four-day tournament against No. 6 Tygarts Valley (17-7) at 9:30 a.m.

“No one wants to get up that early, even less want to play a game at that time,” said Tygarts Valley head coach Mike DiPasquale. “But, our kids begin school at 7 a.m. so they are used to waking up early. And, more importantly, both teams will face the same problems with playing at that time of day.”

The Bulldogs and Blue Devils have met once this season with St. Marys handing Tygarts Valley a 71-43 setback in the W.Va. Hometown Invitational Tournament.

“It helps having played them (St. Marys),” said DiPasquale. “I was able to go into Friday’s practice with an idea of what we needed to do. Now, it comes down to us making the needed adjustments to make sure that (loss) doesn’t happen again.”

St. Marys is led by two-time Class A all-state performer Audra Clark (18.0 ppg) and junior Kendra Walker (13.6) while Tygarts Valley will counter with a starting five that includes seniors Shanda Howell (19.0 ppg) and Erin Murphy (3.8) and juniors Emily Pingley (5.0), Kelsey Arbogast (6.4) and Paige Pritt (9.3).

Parkersburg South (17-7), the No. 3 seed in Class AAA, takes to the court at 7:15 p.m. Thursday to take on No. 6 Hedgesville (17-8).

“I have been following them (Parkersburg South) throughout the season and they have really improved throughout the year,” said Hedgesville head coach Ben Merica. “Coach (Scott) Stephens and his staff have done a wonderful job of bringing a very young team around and getting them this far.

“This will be an interesting matchup because we haven’t been here (the state tournament) since 2006 and they beat us in the tournament in 2005.”

The Patriots won’t be the only team featuring a young lineup as the Eagles top player is 5-foot, 7-inch sophomore Kristen Nunn (18.2 ppg). Rounding out the starting five will be seniors Bianca Creamers (7.6 ppg) and Kelsey Shaw (5.0), junior Carly Elliott (14.5) and sophomore Alexis Taylor (10.5).

Closing out the second day of the tournament will be the final Class AA matchup of the quarterfinals featuring No. 4 Clay County (18-6) and No. 5 Fairmont Senior (18-6).

“I think everyone is surprised that we made it back after losing eight players off of last year’s team that lost in the semifinals,” said Clay County head coach Mary Ramsey. “These girls have really worked hard this season, overcoming the loss of one player to injury, as well as some very tough losses early, to bounce back and make this final run.”

The semifinal round will begin at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, when the six semifinals will be played.

The three state champions for 2013 will be crowned on Saturday.