MORGANTOWN — Morgantown High girls’ basketball coach Jason White always believed that the primary value of a tough regular-season schedule is that it often leads to post-season success. It’s tough to argue with a coach whose teams captured three straight Class AAA state titles, from 2014-’16.
Right now, the Mohigans are in the middle of a brutal stretch, with four games in six days, including road losses against No. 1 Buckhannon-Upshur and No. 5 Parkersburg South sandwiching a home win versus No. 7 Wheeling Park.
On Jan. 27, fourth-ranked MHS continued its punishing journey with a home match-up with perennially solid Martinsburg, a team the Mohigans barely beat on the road, 40-39, three weeks ago. And despite the bumps, bruises and rubbery legs, the Mohigans started strong and finished strong to defeat the Bulldogs, 47-38.
Early on, MHS (11-5) hit the offensive glass hard — it would finish with 41 rebounds, including 13 offensive boards — and played a tight match-up zone to build a 13-7 lead after the first eight minutes. Both teams cranked up the defense in the second stanza, contesting every cut and shot, and a long stretch at 17-9 was finally broken when Morgantown’s 8-2 run closed out the half.
“I thought that was about as unselfish a half of basketball as we’ve played all year,” White said. “We consistently made the extra pass, found the player with a better look, and our rebounding really helped us at both ends of the court. After all the hard basketball we’ve played this week, I was really proud and impressed with our energy.”
Up 25-11 at the break, MHS’s Sydni Clawges got hot with a 9-point quarter — on her way to a game-high 15 — stretching the lead to 30-11. But Martinsburg (10-7) finally started to get the ball to fall, especially Kylie Roberts and Kyaira Page down low. The pair led a 15-6 run that cut the lead to ten after three quarters, 36-26.
The Bulldogs had several chances to cut it to single digits early in the fourth, until Roberts finally broke the barrier at 3:57 with a conventional 3-point play. In trouble on their next offensive sequence, White got a time-out, designed a play, and polished point guard Aliyssa Neal found Molly Miller free on the baseline. Her three-pointer hit nothing but net, restored the 10-point bulge, and energized her mates.
“Before the game, coach asked us what we were going to do to help us win,” Miller smiled after the game, “and I said I would shoot the ball with confidence. I’ve been struggling with my shot lately, but when I let that one go, it felt great, and I knew it was good.”
Molly’s shot really gave us a big lift,” Neal added. “The momentum was starting to shift, and if that one misses, they can cut it to two possessions. It was huge.”
Leading 41-33 with under two minutes remaining, White pushed another key button, switching to a half-court trap that worked to perfection. Hoping to force extra passes and run time off the clock, the Mohigans got much more, forcing a pair of critical turnovers. Martinsburg had to foul, Neal drained both ends of a one-and-one with 20 seconds left, and the Bulldogs ran out of time.
“We feel really comfortable with our pressure defense,” Clawges explained. “We know how to be aggressive without fouling, and no team likes a lot of ball pressure. It helped us close this game out, and we needed this one.”
Surviving the week with a 2-2 record, White explained why he accepted Thursday’s weather-postponed game with Parkersburg South, even though he wasn’t obligated to do so.
“I told the girls that I took the game because that’s exactly what the State tournament is like,” he explained. “Tough teams, back-to-back games – that’s what you have to be able to overcome if you want to win in Charleston. And that’s exactly what we’re all about around here: winning in Charleston.”
The Mohigans head on the road for the Big Atlantic Classic tournament this week in Beckley, facing Woodrow Wilson in the semifinals Thursday, followed by an OVAC semi-final road game, then to Charleston against St. Albans in the Little General Tournament. The OVAC tournament concludes the second week of February, and the Mohigans finally return home on the 15th for their final regular season game at 7:30 p.m., against Preston.