By DAVE MORRISON
OAK HILL – When the going got tough, Wyoming East got going. To something completely out of character.
With starters getting in foul trouble, and 6-5 center and defensive dominator Emily Saunders tied to the bench with an injury, the Lady Warriors turned to the slow down in their showdown with rival Westside the Class AA Region 3, Section 1 championship at the Lilly Center.
The result was a 54-42 victory and home court advantage in next week’s co-regional final Wednesday.
Westside will travel to Bluefield for the Region 3 co-final and a ticket to Charleston.
“We don’t normally slow it down, that’s against everything that we do,” Wyoming East coach Angie Boninsegna said. “Katie (Daniels) was in foul trouble, Jazz (Blankenship) was in foul trouble, Skylar (Davidson was in foul trouble. We just felt we wouldn’t be as apt to foul on the offensive end if we backed it out. I hope it gave the girls a little confidence that if we have to go against what we normally do we can still be successful.”
The move didn’t turn any dividends lead-wise.
The Lady Renegades ran off 25 fourth quarter points and got within 11 once and 13 twice, after the Warriors ran the lead out to 38-13 in the third quarter after a 3 by Katie Daniels.
By a 10-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters, including five free throws, a short jumper by Taylor Brown and a 3 by Riana Kenneda, cut the lead to 15, 38-23.
Brooke Russell had the Warriors final field goal at the 3:06 mark, and briefly left the game after turning her ankle, another injury scare for Wyoming East. The field goal was just one of two in the final quarter. Everything else was scored at the free throw line.
With Sky Davidson running the point and content to dribble away precious time, Westside was forced to foul.
Jazz Blankenship went 7 of 8 at the free throw line down the stretch for Wyoming East, which was 9 of 14 in the final three minutes.
The Warriors ran out to a 10-2 first-quarter lead in a game that was marked by physical play.
Emily Saunders had her second 3 of the postseason during that run but the 6-foot-5 Tennessee signee gave the Warriors a massive scare in the second when she came down wrong and suffered a knee injury and had to be helped from the floor.
The injury wasn’t expected to keep Saunders out of action next week but Boninsegna said she wasn’t taking chances, even as Saunders badgered her at a near relentless pace to get back in the game in the second half.
“I think she will be back but I don’t to speculate because we’ve had so many knee injuries the last two or three years,” Boninsegna said. “She totally (lobbied for playing time) did and the other girls did too but I wasn’t going to risk it. Her health is more important than a basketball game plus we have a week off she can rest.
Before and after that injury Warriors used a 14-0 run to build a 16-2 second-quarter lead. The margin was 27-11 at the half.
That wasn’t the game plan that Westside coach Tim Kennedy had hoped to employ coming into the third meeting of the season (the other games being 79-38 and 60-38 Wyoming East.
“It’s an offensive thing with us,” Kennedy said. “I thought defensively we did what we needed to do to keep it close. We’ve got to be willing to take that stuff on the offensive end and be able to run through our offenses and try to get to the point where we are putting some points on the board. You can’t win scoring two points in a quarter.”
The Warriors got good play off the bench in the third quarter. Sarah Saunders, Emily’s sister, came in and scored five straight points on an 11-2 run that pushed the lead to 38-13.
“I thought our bench played well,” Boninsegna said. “Sarah came in and did a great job and Daisha played well despite getting in some foul trouble.”
The bench was limited as Hannah Blankenship missed the game with the flu.
The 25 points scored by Westside in the fourth quarter was the most Wyoming East has given up in a quarter all season. In fact, Wyoming East has given up 20-plus all season, surrendering 21 in the third and fourth quarter in a loss against Huntington St. Joe Dec. 14 and 21 in the fourth quarter in a victory against Parkersburg South Dec. 29.
Despite the loss, Kennedy likes his teams chances of getting back to Charleston for the first time since winning the Class AA title in 2014.
“We aren’t the most athletic group around but I like our heart, I like our effort, I like our hustle,” Kennedy said. “If we do things like that, play hard, we hit the boards, play good defense and play with intensity we are always going to have a chance to win.”
The sectional championship was Wyoming East’s fourth in the last five years. Westside took the 2017 sectional after Wyoming East won it in 2015 and 2016. East won last year and this year.
Class AA Region 3, Section 1 Championship
Wyoming East 54, Westside 42
Taylor Brown 3 1-2 7, Leslie Bailey 2 3-4 8, Hannah Toler 3 4-4 10, Riana Kenneda 3 1-2 9, Makayla Morgan 0 6-8 6, Breezy St. Clair 0 0-0 0, Lauren Thomas 0 0-0 0, Halie Carter 1 0-0 2. TOTALS: 11 15-20 42
Wyoming East (21-3)
Jazz Blankenship 2 8-11 13, Katie Daniels 2 2-6 7, Brooke Russell 3 3-6 9, Emily Saunders 2 0-0 5, Sky Davidson 3 6-9 13, Daisha Summers 1 0-2 2, Sarah Saunders 2 1-2 5, Morgan Mills 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 15 2-36 54
Westside 2 9 6 25 – 42
Wyoming East 10 17 11 16 – 54
Three-point field goals – W: 3 (Bailey, Kenneda 2), WE: 4 (Blankenship, Daniels, E. Saunders, Davidson) Fouled out – W: Makayla Morgan, Breezy St. Clair. WE: None.