Magnolia girls defeat Ritchie in sectional final
NEW MARTINSVILLE — When it comes to defense, Magnolia doesn’t go for the style points. Instead its nature is to stay in front of the player the Blue Eagles are guarding.
It worked to almost perfection during the West Virginia Class A Region 1, Section 2 girls basketball championship game against Ritchie County at Magnolia High School on Friday night.
With it being a one-point game at halftime, the Blue Eagles held the Rebels to a mere 10 points and their offense came to life in the second half en route to a 58-32 victory.
“When we went in at halftime, we told them, ‘Keep playing defense,’ “Magnolia head coach Meredith Pilant said. “We pride ourselves on not making the steals, not making the blocks and playing good, solid defense. Stay in front of them. We did that. Ritchie County got frustrated. They weren’t able to do a lot in the second half, they weren’t going for the foul, they weren’t going for the steal, they were going for the good, solid defensive play. And the defense led to the offensive ability.”
Magnolia will face Cameron for a chance to make it down to Charleston while Ritchie County will take on Wheeling Central. This is also Magnolia’s first sectional championship since 2007.
“We have worked for this all year,” Pilant said. “Our girls knew coming in they were underrated, that they were doubted. It has been in their mind for a long time. We kept telling them they have the heart, they have the ability, they put the work in. So this was a big step for them because I don’t think anybody saw them on the map at the beginning of the season.”
As the score read 25-24 in favor of the Blue Eagles to start the second half, the first four minutes of it seemed like it was going to be a mirror image of the first. Abi Haught tallied a bucket for the Rebels to make it 30-27 with 4:07 left in the third.
However, that’s when the Blue Eagles made their first spurt of the night as they netted six straight to go up 36-27 with 1:18 to go. Magnolia also played a little conservatively, holding the ball for decent amounts of time waiting to get the right look for Kyndra Pilant or Mady Winters.
“We wanted them to pressure the ball,” Meredith Pilant said. “We knew that would isolate Kyndra and Mady underneath. And that’s where we dominate. So we knew if we could pull them out and make them guard us, we could dominate in the paint. That was kind of the plan there.”
Kyndra Pilant secured a game-high 21 points and also grabbed 12 rebounds to notch a double-double. Winters grabbed an eye-popping 20 boards while scoring 14 points. Logan Riggs was also solid for the Blue Eagles with 11 points.
Haught had a team-high 16 points for Ritchie County while Cassie Tallman contributed with seven.
“In the second half, we didn’t run any offense at all,” Rebels head coach David McCullough said. “We couldn’t get any offense. Give them credit defensively, but we couldn’t run any offense. We didn’t run any offense the whole time. We tried two or three different things. We didn’t run any, so until we run an offense, we’re not going to do anything.”
Magnolia went on a 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter to take a commanding 45-29 lead. After a Tallman 3-pointer, the Blue Eagles responded with 12 unanswered points as the score read 57-34 with 46 seconds left in the game.
Now the focus for the Blue Eagles is on Cameron. The last time the two teams played, the Dragons started the second half on an 11-0 run and secured a 46-41 victory on Feb. 15.
“They’re very excited for the game,” Meredith Pilant said. “We kept telling them, ‘It’s a three-game process. You get three games in you and you make it to Charleston.’ They’re very excited for Cameron. We knew we’d match up well with Cameron, so they’re very excited. I’ll be exciting to see how they play on Wednesday.”
Ritchie County and Wheeling Central faced off last year down in Charleston. This year one will punch its ticket to the state capital while the other will see its season come to an end.
“We can’t go into that game and think we’re beat from the get-go,” McCullough said. “We’ll go with our experience against them from last year and hopefully see what happens. You’re going to have to face one of those teams anyway either in Charleston or the regional, so might as well try to see what you can do before you get to Charleston.”