MORGANTOWN — It was Senior Night in the University High gymnasium Monday evening as the Class AAA No. 5 UHS girls’ basketball team hosted No. 17 Preston, but at the end of the night, it was a pair of talented UHS juniors and a prolific Preston freshman who lit up the scoreboard in University’s 68-44 win.
Now, to be sure, the contributions of UHS senior guards Selena Jenkins, Zoe Murphy and Jaimalyn Ash (as well as the Knights’ lone senior, center Erica Myers) are not to be minimized, as they continue to lead their teams on and off the court. But from the opening tip, this one was dominated by PHS forward Carsynn Sines and the dynamic UHS duo of Ashten Boggs and Mallory Napolillo.
The Knights (10-7) raced out to a quick 7-0 lead in the first two minutes before Hawks’ coach Dave Price switched to a pressuring man defense that woke his team up on both ends of the court. In the next five minutes, UHS (12-5) put on a powerful display to roar past PHS with a 27-6 run to take a 14-point lead at the end of the first quarter.
More inside work from Napolillo and Boggs stretched the UHS lead above twenty points, but instead of folding, PHS coach Brian Miller’s young team scratched and clawed back with a strong, defensive-fueled run of their own. The Knights whittled the lead down to six points late, and had three chances to shave even more, but couldn’t convert. When the Hawks ground out the final two minutes of the half on a mini-run, they boosted their advantage back to double digits, leading 41-29 at the break.
Both offenses were stagnant and ineffective for much of the third quarter, as shooting woes and smothering defenses limited the scoring to just 7-6 in favor of UHS for most of the quarter — until once again, the Hawks slipped out on a run to extend their lead to 53-37 after the third quarter.
It was University’s defense that clamped down the rest of the way, limiting Preston to just 15 second-half points on its way to the deceptively comfortable 24-point victory.
Boggs led all scorers with 25 points and Napolillo netted 18 to pace UHS, while Sines showed a mid-range jumper and quick hands in the paint to hit for 22 points for the Knights.
“They were so much bigger than us, and I was really worried about rebounding,” Miller said. “So we packed in the zone. But they shot it over us, and then went on that long run, and Boggs is tough to match up against. It was kind of pick your poison.
“But we did a great job of countering their run with a good one of our own in the second quarter,” he continued. “That was really encouraging. Carsynn was solid all night offensively, and I loved our effort.
They are definitely a top 5 Class AAA team, and it was good to see our young team go toe-to-toe with them in long stretches. Their runs were just a little longer and stronger than ours.”
Napolillo, described by Price as “our anchor, an athletic post player that improves our overall play the most,” enjoys the challenge as a slightly undersized post player.
“It’s a special challenge to face bigger teams,” she smiled. “I know I just have to work harder and smarter, and be a little bit tougher every night. And Ashten and I have been playing together so long, we can read each other almost automatically, and that lets us set each other up all the time, which makes it really fun.”
Price, as most coaches do, pointed to his defense as the key in Monday’s victory.
“When we lock in like that, it sets up our offense, and keeps us close whenever a team is trying to run away from us,” he said. “It’s a huge part of our success, and a major part of why we came out on top tonight.”