Local Sports, Morgantown, Sports

HISTORY-MAKING HEARTACHE: No. 2 George Washington upsets No. 1 Morgantown in state championship stunner 47-46

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – It’s no surprise the first-ever Class 4A boys’ state championship game came down to the wire. A hard shot fell for George Washington’s Ben Nicol with 12 seconds left on the clock to put the Patriots up one point, and Morgantown’s Luke Bechtel’s last-second attempt fell short, and the No. 2 Patriots escaped with the title 47-46 on Saturday at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center.

Still, GW coach Rick Greene refused to look at the No. 1 Mohigans as losers. 

“First off, congratulations to Morgantown,” Greene said. “I know how disappointed they are, I’ve sat on that bench as a player and as a coach. It’s so devastating because you get so close to something you want to accomplish. Let’s have some common sense, they’re not losers; we hit a bucket. They almost hit their bucket. They played like champions, they gave us more trouble in our defenses than anyone we’ve played all year. 

“We hit the last bucket and we and say we’re champions, but we just hit a bucket, a great bucket.” 

The Patriots started with a bang, picking up seven quick points on a deep 3, quick layup and a jumper, all while forcing two turnovers on the Mohigans’ first two possessions. Luke Bechtel finally snapped the Mohigans’ drought after Carson Poffenberger snatched a fumbled ball. 

Poffenberger cut the Patriots’ lead to four just before the first media timeout, and shortly after the break, Brooks Gage hit a short jumper to bring it within two. Two quick treys in response gave GW a 14-6 lead with just over a minute left in the frame, but Alec Poland and Bechtel began to cook on offense and defense, respectively, to bring it within six at the end of the quarter. 

Despite Poland opening the second quarter with a 3, the following four minutes were dry. On a drive to the bucket just before the media timeout, Bechtel got fouled and followed the break with two freebies to cut the Patriots’ lead to one. MHS then jumped out to their first lead of the game at 21-18 and continued to cook en route to a six-point lead going into halftime, 26-20. 

Morgantown and GW traded blows to open the second half, but GW used two MHS miscues to retake the lead once more at 30-29. Poffenberger responded with a second chance put-back for the third lead change of the game, and John Goetz hit one of two at the line to knot it at 31. Poffenberger kept the heat coming down low, spinning past multiple defenders en route to a bucket and-1 attempt at the third media timeout. Although he missed the freebie, Poffenberger added two more points to the Mohigans’ lead on the following possession, putting MHS ahead, 35-31. 

GW refused to lay down, as Mason Pinkett hit a triple to keep it within one, but Poffenberger sank two at the line and the Mohigans defense kept the Patriots silent in the paint in the waning minute of the third frame to maintain the lead. 

The fourth quarter was no different than the rest; chippy and anyone’s game. The Patriots battled back with three quick buckets to tie things at 41, but a critical foul put Bechtel – one of Morgantown’s best free throw shooters – at the line. Back and forth it went, and the Patriots retook the lead down the stretch, 45-44. A missed shot by Poland gave GW the board, but freshman Sha-Ron Young was down the court and in position for the charge, giving the Mohigans the ball back with 41 seconds on the clock. 

Tallman calls a timeout; the Mohigans have the ball back for one more attempt. It goes to Poland, who drives to the bucket and gets fouled. 

One in. Tied up. 

The second falls. Up one. 

Thirty seconds on the clock, then 12; Nicol nails the jumper. Ten seconds left, Xavier Pryor brings the ball down court, Bechtel gets it, puts it up – it veers right and the buzzer sounds. The second-ranked Patriots win the first-ever 4A state title in a stunner.  

“I don’t know how we won that game,” Greene said. “We just kept digging and digging and found a way to get the last shot and knock it down.”

And what does the guy who hit that bucket think about it?

“I just saw there were 12 seconds on the clock, held the ball for a couple of seconds, nothing was going,” Nicol said. “I took a jab to the left, dribbled right, pulled up and luckily got it over him [Poffenberger] and it fell.”

A crucial part of defeating Morgantown was shutting down its 3-point shooting. The Mohigans only hit 16.7% from beyond the arc (2 for 12) while GW managed a 46.7% night on 7 for 15 shooting. 

“I thought it was a hard-fought basketball game,” Tallman said. “We’re a team that thrives on making a bunch of 3s and we were 2 of 12 today, lose by one and score 46 points. I can’t remember the last time we only scored 46 points. They were switching defenses and gave us some fits, but we didn’t get any easy ones. They played great transition D and we didn’t make any shots from the outside.”

Of some relevance, Morgantown had a timeout left to spare, but Tallman didn’t want to kill any momentum and allow GW to reset its defense. 

“What do you want me to do? There was 10 seconds left, Zay had the ball in his hands going downhill so you call a timeout, they get to change their defense and you don’t know what they’re going to play – they played four different defenses tonight,” Tallman said. “Zay had the ball, threw it to the corner; I thought Luke had a good look, Luke deserves to make that shot but it didn’t drop. 

“I’ve sat in many seats and I’ve been in here after a championship game, you know, hats off to GW. They had guys that made shots that usually aren’t their go-to guys. I thought we took away their go-to guys, but No. 33 [Nicol], he was 6 for 8 from the floor, so he stepped up.” 

Poffenberger led the Mohigans with 17 points and seven rebounds in his final game in the red and blue and fulfilled his goal of making the state title game. Despite the heartache, Poffenberger – the most crucial leader of the team – diverted to talking about his teammates. 

“My goal was to get here and obviously win, didn’t happen tonight, but in basketball, you win some you lose some,” Poffenberger said. “We had a tough night, and like coach said 2 for 12 from behind the 3-point line, it’s unheard of for us. We usually go a half of bad shooting but never a full game. It just didn’t drop for us tonight. 

“I’m super proud of my team. We did it all together; I didn’t achieve anything, our team did. I can’t say how proud I am of these guys.” 

Poland was second in scoring with 14 points and will return for his senior year to lead a talented group of underclassmen. He said coming back helps a bit, but it’s time to “get back to work.” 

Alex Yoakum led the Patriots with 17 points, while Nicol had 14 to round out the double-digit scorers. 

Senior sign-off and Bechtel’s ‘unbelievable’ journey  

Bechtel was third on the team in scoring with eight points and secured five rebounds, three assists and three steals, but the end of his senior year won’t be remembered as a loss but a triumph over injury. 

“Luke, it’s unbelievable what he’s been through,” Tallman said. “Two ACLs, he tweaked his knee again about three weeks ago, he’s out there playing his butt off, makes all-tournament team. I can’t say enough about his heart and determination and the way he killed his rehab. He’s a special kid.” 

Tallman didn’t leave out his other seniors, either. 

“Carson, you talk to any teacher in our school and they all love him. I had a couple of teachers and the emails I got back about him were incredible,” Tallman said. “Cam Rice had a knee surgery last year and didn’t play. Cam grew up so much this season; I’m so proud of him. I don’t know if anyone’s ever had his back beside his grandmother but coach Tallman will be there for him his whole life. Anything he needs, I’m so proud and thankful he came out. 

“And then Xavier Pryor, what a year he had. His assist-to-turnover ratio was 4:1 throughout the regular season. He blocked out so much noise and just played. He was a great teammate and always guarded the other team’s best player. Our seniors were a special group. It hurts they didn’t win it, but at the end of the day they played as hard as they could and they’re champions in my eye.” 

Box score


Alex Yoakum 7 0-0 17; Ben Nicol 6 0-0 14; Mason Pinkett 3 1-2 8; John Goetz 2 1-2 5; Isaac McCallister 1 0-0 3. Totals: 19 2-4 47. 

NO. 1 MORGANTOWN (19-2) 

Carson Poffenberger 7 3-5 17; Alec Poland 5 2-2 14; Luke Bechtel 2 4-4 8; Xavier Pryor 1 1-5 3; Brooks Gage 1 0-0 2; Sha-Ron Young 1 0-0 2. Totals: 17 10-16 46. 

GW 16 4 14 13 – 47

MHS 10 16 11 9 – 46 

3-pointers: GW 7 (Yoakum 3, Nicol 2, McCallister, Pinkett); MHS 2 (Poland 2). 

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All photos from Michael Switzer/For The Dominion Post