South comes up short

CHARLESTON – Parkersburg South nearly won against a stacked deck.

Trailing by five points with less than a minute remaining in regulation in Thursday’s Class AAA quarterfinal game with Washington, South rallied to tie the score at 56 on Dylon Rippeto’s only field goal attempt of the game- with that being of the 3-point variety -and 23 seconds showing.

But just as soon as the South faithful broke into celebration, Washington point guard Dominique Newman took matters into his own hands and hit a bucket to put his club in front 58-56 at the 14-second mark.

Following two missed free throws at the South end of the floor, Washington iced the 60-56 victory at the Charleston Civic Center with two charity tosses by Kendell Smith with 5.7 ticks left on the clock.

South played that final minute without two starters, including its leading scorer Wes Mitchem, who rolled his ankle earlier in the fourth quarter. South sophomore guard Cody Monroe also had to sit and watch from the bench after fouling out at the 1:02 mark.

Add to the fact that South went seven-plus minutes without making a field goal midway in the contest and coach Mike Fallon’s team still came that close to advancing to today’s semifinal round against top-seeded Martinsburg.

Instead, South ends the season at 21-5.

“We fought hard and had chances to win I couldn’t be any more prouder of my kids,” Fallon said. “There in that final minute, we have been in that situation about five times this year and found a way to win. Today was just one of those days we didn’t find a way.

“After Rippeto’s 3-pointer, I think we got caught up in that make and didn’t get back on defense. And Newman got an easy bucket on us. He’s quick probably the quickest kid we played all year.”

With the school only in its fifth year of existence, Washington (21-5) earns the right to meet Martinsburg for a fourth time this season. Washington coach Don Bullett and his crew are determined to get that first victory against the Bulldogs when the ball is tipped off at 5:30 p.m.

And with a junior point guard like Newman, who led his team with 17 points, Washington likes its chances. Against South, Washington also received 16 points and 17 rebounds from Keldon Bell; 11 points and 11 rebounds from Kendell Smith; and nine points and 12 boards from Jerome Jones.

“Dominique does a lot, and I was hoping in that first quarter he didn’t pick up his second foul I didn’t want to have to take him out of the game,” Bullett said. “He’s quick, he’s fast and he can put the ball on the floor and does a lot of things when he gets to the basket. If you leave him open, he can knock down the 3 as well.

“Defensively, he led our area with (137) steals. So he does a lot of things and I’m glad he is on my side.”

At the outset, South jumped on top of Washington 6-0. A half-hook by reserve Christian Coles contributed to a 10-3 run by Washington and left South trailing for the first time at 10-9.

“This is our first appearance in the state tournament and I thought my kids would be a little nervous, so I expected to maybe have a rough start,” Bullett said. “Parkersburg South came after us that first quarter, especially those first three or four minutes. Then the kids settled down and started playing good basketball.”

South answered with four straight points and regained the lead at 13-10 a lead it would not relinquish until midway into the third quarter.

Providing a huge spark for South at the end of the first quarter was Mitchem, who took over the dribble behind the 3-point line with time winding down and took yet another step back before drilling one of his four 3-pointers for a 21-15 lead. Mitchem finished with a game-high 20 points and nine rebounds.

South’s largest lead of the game occurred with just under six minutes left before intermission. Logan Lawrentz took the feed off Tyler Bolen’s penetration down the lane and scored the easy lay-in for a 28-18 cushion. Bolen finished with seven assists and seven points.

Still maintaining a 31-22 edge at the 4:29 mark of the second quarter, South went into a funk from the field and did not score again until Doug Dennis dropped in two free throws as part of his 10-point effort at the 6:37 mark of the third quarter. Fortunately, South still was leading 33-30.

The gap increased to four at 36-32 when Bolen knocked down a 3-pointer along the baseline and just in front of the South bench which snapped a drought where Fallon’s club didn’t make a field goal for a span lasting 7:08.

“Washington went a little bit full-court man on us and sped us up a little bit,” Fallon said. “We took maybe three or four bad shots in that stretch. They kind of got us out of flow there.”

Washington responded with a 6-0 run and overtook South at 38-36. Neither team led by more than three points until Newman hit a pair of free throws with 1:02 left in regulation.

South kept battling behind one free throw from both Logan Cox and Dennis. Rippeto’s 3-pointer surprised the entire arena with 23 seconds showing.

“After they hit the 3, I knew (South was) excited but I also knew they weren’t going to get back immediately,” Newman said. “So I just took advantage of that, took advantage of my speed and drove the whole court.”