CHARLESTON — For the first 26 minutes of Saturday night’s Class AAA championship, University got exactly the type of performance it was hoping for.
That effort allowed the third-seeded Hawks to hang right with No. 1 Parkersburg.
But down the stretch, the Big Reds’ defensive pressure wore on UHS, and Parkersburg outscored the Hawks, 20-10, over the game’s final 7:10 to win 63-52 and repeat as state champs.
“We thought if we kept it at a certain pace, maybe we can wear on them,” PHS coach Scott Cozzens said. “They turned it over a little bit carelessly late in the third quarter and in the fourth, which they weren’t really doing in the first half.”
After Aleea Crites started the fourth-quarter scoring with a bucket to give the Big Reds (26-1) a 43-37 advantage, University (22-6) answered in the form of a Zoe Murphy 3-pointer and two Ashten Boggs free throws.
Bre Wilson responded with a 3 from well beyond the arc — a theme throughout the contest — and Shay Kirby made two free throws at the 5:51 mark to stretch the lead to 49-42.
The second of those two foul shots also gave Kirby 1,382 career points, making her the leading scorer in the history of Parkersburg’s program.
“I don’t really care about personal records,” said Kirby, an Austin Peay signee. “I do it for the people that come watch us and my teammates.”
After the record-breaking free throw, Kirby scored her team’s next three points to give Parkersburg a 52-42 lead.
Boggs split two free throws to make it a nine-point game with 4:30 remaining, but Kirby answered with another basket and the Big Reds led by double figures the rest of the way.
“This is not the order I want to do an interview, but at the same time, I definitely want to give it up to our girls for that battle they just put out there,” Hawks coach David Price said. “I think it was the gamut of all those games one day after another and we ran out of energy, and Parkersburg proved why they’re a state championship team.”
The Hawks built an early 10-3 lead after the first of Murphy’s four 3s, but Parkersburg got the first of Wilson’s six 3s in response.
Wilson would make three more triples over the remainder of the first quarter, including one that beat the buzzer to give her team a 17-16 lead.
“I’m comfortable shooting out there,” Wilson said. “We shoot so much in practice that it helps a lot during the game.”
Neither team led by more than three throughout the second quarter and Boggs broke a 25-all tie with two free throws 48 seconds before halftime to give her team a 27-25 lead at the break.
The third quarter played out much like the second, with neither team able to build a lead larger than four points.
However, a key sequence occured at the end of the frame when Price called timeout to save a possession with six seconds left in the quarter and his team trailing 39-37.
Out of the break, Parkersburg’s Kristen Lowers came up with a steal and converted a layup that sent the Big Reds into the fourth with a 41-37 lead.
“It was a huge play and on a big stage for a freshman,” Cozzens said. “She’s fast and when she got the ball, I felt good looking at the clock because I know how quick she can get down the floor.”
Wilson led all players with 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including 6-of-10 from 3-point range.
Kirby added 11 points, while Madi Mace had 10 points and eight rebounds in the win.
Murphy had a team-high 15 points in the loss. Napolillo recorded a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Boggs chipped in with 13 points and four assists.
Sixteen of University’s 24 turnovers came after halftime — a sign of fatigue for a team that played a hard-fought semifinal late Friday and also opened state tournament play Thursday, as opposed to the Big Reds playing their quarterfinal Wednesday.
“I thought we were ready for the game and then they started making shots and we felt physically exhausted,” Boggs said. “We had a hard game last night and this was an even harder game.”
The Big Reds’ victory also marked the 140th state championship in the history of Parkersburg’s athletic program.