MORGANTOWN — Morgantown High girls’ basketball coach Jason White has been in the business long enough to know a trap game when he sees one, and Tuesday’s Region I, Section II semifinal home tilt against Buckhannon-Upshur fit the definition.
An early-season 68-29 blowout win against an injury-depleted Bucs team now playing its best ball of the year, and at home, and with a likely rubber match against rival University on the immediate horizon for the Mohigans — and the team wasn’t in school today due to teacher’s strike, further disrupting their routine.
This game had disaster for MHS written all over it, but forward Kaitlyn Ammons and the resilient Mohigans withstood a furious B-U fourth quarter rally to advance with a confidence-boosting 54-40 victory.
“You can preach to a team all week long,” White said after the game, “but human nature is what it is, and you won’t figure out that the other team is ready to play until you get on the court.”
The undersized Bucs (13-10) used an aggressive, swarming press to force the Mohigans into a whopping eight first quarter turnovers (22 overall), but most were committed in the process of attacking, rather than reacting. This allowed Morgantown (14-9) to produce a bevy of goof looks in the paint, and an extended 20-2 run — fueled by strong man defense — through the middle portion of the half brought MHS to a 28-17 halftime lead.
The Mohigans continued to take advantage of their length in the paint to drive their advantage up to 36-22 with five minutes gone in the third quarter, but B-U would not fold, and a series of effort buckets whittled the lead back down to a manageable 11 points heading into the final quarter.
The energized Bucs bench realized if it could get it to single digits, things could get real tight down the stretch, and when a quick driving layup from Audrey Gaudet was followed by a Mohigans turnover and a 3-pointer from Brooklyn Maxwell, the deficit was suddenly down to six — and that’s when Ammons took over.
In the space of two minutes, the sophomore drilled a long jumper, dropped in a lay-up after a nice catch in the paint, turned in a monster block, snagged a tough rebound, and buried a conventional 3-point play to build the lead back to 10 at 47-37.
Again, B-U would not quit after Alli Robinson finished her own and-one to cut the lead to 47-40, but the Bucs would get no closer. Another 3-point play from Ammons, plus steady ball-handling and clutch free throws in the last minutes from senior guard Maddie Seaman buried the Bucs hopes.
“Earlier in the year, we were losing games late,” said Ammons, who led all scorers with 19 points. “But even when they cut it to six, we stayed pretty calm, kept to our game, and battled through it. Winning a game like this just gives you confidence that you can do it the next time.”
When asked about Thursday’s sectional final at University, both Ammons and her coach couldn’t help but smile.
“They’re our rival, and we bring out the best and the worst in each other,” she said. “If we keep our focus and stay positive, we’ll play our best, and that’s what we’ll need to do to win.”
“It’s what you want,” White said. “The teams are evenly matched, we’ve both won close games against each other at home. We need to go in loose and relaxed, knowing that we’re the underdog, we’re on the road, and no matter what happens, we play in the first round of Regionals.
“We’ve overcome adversity all season,” he concluded, “and now it’s time for us to show what we can do.”
The sectional final will be at 7 p.m. Thursday at UHS.