St. Marys returns to state tourney

ST. MARYS – With Magnolia living on borrowed time, St. Marys pushed the pedal to the metal and secured its second straight trip to the Class A girls basketball state tournament in Charleston.

In the first 90 seconds of the fourth quarter, second-ranked St. Marys turned a six-point lead into a 13-point affair and never looked back while defeating Magnolia 64-50.

“Hopefully we will be a two seed – at 22-1 what more can you do for a resume,” St. Marys coach Howard Meeks said.

Foul trouble plagued Magnolia in the second half as three starters had four fouls in the third quarter. Two fouled out before the start of the final period.

“When we got into foul trouble, we really had to change our lineup,” Magnolia coach Mark Blair said.

St. Marys senior Kendra Walker produced an impressive stat line with 25 points and 20 rebounds. Just for good measure she also finished with a team-high four steals.

“It feels wonderful to get back to Charleston,” Walker said. “I’m so excited for us to get this opportunity. I know we will play our hardest at the state tournament and give it all we have.”

Also scoring in double figures for the Blue Devils was Ashley Hall with 16 points even though she sat on the bench for a large portion of the first half after picking up her third foul with just two free throws to her credit. The sophomore never picked up a fourth foul and knocked down three second half 3-pointers in the process.

“Maintaining the lead while Ashley was out with foul trouble was important,” St. Marys point guard Mikaela Britton said. “We have a lot of girls who can come off the bench. We have a lot of depth, so when one of us gets in foul trouble we can pick it up with someone else.”

Grace Berisford paced Magnolia’s offense with 14 points to go with five steals and three assists. Teammate Mallory Chapman – the lone senior on the roster – did not score until the early stages of the second half and matched her younger sister, Kelsi Chapman, with nine points.

“Mallory had a tough game – she struggled and that hurt us because she’s our scorer,” Blair said.

Magnolia gave St. Marys its best shot and took a 14-12 lead into the second quarter. A total of five lead changes ensued before the game reached intermission. With 10 seconds left before halftime, Jordan Fox converted one of five assists by Britton and hit a 3-pointer to put the Blue Devils in front 26-24.

“It was a dogfight out there, and back and forth between us all night,” Britton said. “And in the end, we came out on top.”

Mallory Chapman’s first bucket of the game – a 3-pointer off an assist from Kelsi Chapman – opened the scoring in the second half and gave Magnolia its last lead of the game at 27-26.

St. Marys answered with a 7-0 run, but Kelsi Chapman accounted for the next five points to slice the deficit to 33-32 art the 4:14 mark of the third quarter.

Capped by a Hall 3-pointer, the Blue Devils surged forward once again by outscoring the Blue Eagles 8-2. A layup by St. Marys’ Jenna Nichols just as time expired left Magnolia trailing 43-37.

For the first 3 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter, Magnolia went into a funk, committing four turnovers on its first six possessions. St. Marys took advantage seven unanswered points, including two on Walker’s putback. Walker accounted for seven points in the final eight minutes as Magnolia failed to close within single digits the rest of the way.

“During a timeout, I told the girls that the last time we had the lead to six we let up,” Meeks said. “I told them to run. Run to Charleston or stay home, and they ran to Charleston.”