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Aggressive defense, patient offense lift Morgantown to regional championship over rival University

MORGANTOWN — A 15-0 scoring run between the third and fourth quarters was the difference Thursday evening as the Morgantown girls’ basketball team punched its ticket to Charleston with a 59-42 win over cross-town rival University on Baker’s Ridge.

The Hawks clawed their way back from an early 10-point hole to take their first lead midway through the third quarter, 30-29, on a three-pointer by junior Hannah Stemple. The teams traded baskets and were tied 32-32 with two minutes left in the quarter.

Morgantown then rattled off the next seven points and led 39-32 going into the fourth.

“I told them in the timeout that it ebbs and flows,” MHS coach Doug Goodwin said. “They were making their run and we had to stay patient. I think the build of the season, the schedule we’ve had, those things helped build confidence and they really calmed themselves down.”

Down seven points going into the final frame isn’t a great place to be, but the Hawks had battled back the entire game. UHS trailed 12-2 after the first five minutes, 22-15 at halftime and 28-20 in the early goings of the third and they rallied each time.

In the first two minutes of the fourth, however, Morgantown’s Paige Smith hit a three, Kayli Kellogg made a miracle shot while sitting on the floor and Sadaya Jones hit another triple to cap off a 15-0 run that had the Mohigans up 67-32 with only six minutes left.

Morgantown players pose after defeating University on Thursday. (William Wotring/The Dominion Post)

“It was a defensive lapse,” UHS coach Nick Lusk said. “We lost Sadaya a couple of times, lost Kellogg, and once they hit those big shots it was down from there.”

University’s last push was a 6-point run to cut the lead back to single digits, 47-38, but Morgantown scored the next eight points to put the game away.

“We were patient,” said Jones, who led all scorers with 33 points. “Basketball’s a game of runs and our team just had to be patient.” 

Jones was the catalyst for Morgantown’s offense on Thursday. In stretches where the Mohigans couldn’t buy a basket, Jones was able to find ways to score by either cutting to the basket, putting back offensive rebounds or shooting from the outside.

“You had to let the ball come to you,” she said of the team working through its offensive struggles. “I just felt like (Thursday) I was on and my team knew I was on.”

While Jones was doing the scoring, senior Sofia Wassick was the conductor, dishing out a game-high nine assists.

Morgantown’s Sofia Wassick (2) protects the ball from University’s Hannah Stemple (30) on Thursday. (William Wotring/The Dominion Post)

The duo was also key on the other end of the court, playing lock-down man-to-man defense on University’s best ball-handlers, Stemple and senior Ella Simpson.

“Those two young ladies can defend like nobody’s business,” Goodwin said. 

Wassick had three steals and forced numerous other turnovers.

“She has a different gear,” Goodwin said. “The girls have a great sense of the environment for the game, which is extremely beneficial as a coach to have.”

Morgantown’s defense helped build a 12-2 lead in the first five minutes as University struggled to maintain possession of the ball, let alone make shots. A timeout from Lusk allowed the Hawks to recalibrate as they went to work revamping their own defensive effort. 

“I just told them we withstood that,” Lusk said. “We weren’t making shots and I just told them to battle through it.”

The defenses battled in the second quarter as the teams combined for just five total field goals. 

In contrast, the teams scored five field goals in the first two minutes in the third as each side came out wanting to play at a faster pace. Morgantown led 28-20 when the Hawks finally made their run. 

A three-pointer from Stemple kicked off a 12-4 UHS run that ultimately led to the 32-32 tie with two minutes left in the third.

Part of the spark for UHS was improvement on the boards. The Hawks were out-rebounded badly in the first half but ended the game even, 24-24. Leading the way for UHS was sophomore Lexi Simpson, who pulled down nine rebounds.

“I think she was playing for her sister (Ella),” Lusk said. “She gave us a great spark.”

Ella Simpson finished her high school career with an all-around effort, finishing with nine points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals and four blocks.

University’s Ella Simpson (23) is fouled by Morgantown’s Abigail Paulsen (23) on Thursday. (William Wotring/The Dominion Post)

“She played her heart out,” Lusk said. “That’s typical for her. I just feel bad I couldn’t get her down to Charleston.

“She wanted it, but that’s the way she is. Her and (fellow senior) Ashlyn (Weaver) have been leaders all season.” 

University began the season with just a 3-8 record as they battled through injuries early in the year. Lusk credits Ella Simpson and Weaver for leading the team out of that and to another section championship and regional appearance.

“When we went through that bad stretch at the beginning (of the season), they kept everybody together,” Lusk said. “They did a really nice job of leading this team.”

Stemple led University with 15 points. The junior hit the three-pointer that started the Hawks’ run in the third quarter and the three-pointer that gave them their first lead, 30-29.

“She hit some big shots and that’s what your big-time players do,” Lusk said. “She and Ella stepped up.

“They played hard it was just (Morgantown) made more shots.”

Weaver finished with seven points, Lexi Simpson had six and Bri Fox scored four.

For Morgantown, freshman Kayli Kellog was second on the team with 11 points. She had zero at halftime after scoring 30 in the team’s last meeting with UHS, but was still contributing as she tied Jones for the team lead with eight rebounds.

“She finds a way to find the ball,” Goodwin said. “That’s the way with Kayli, Sofia, they all seem to have a nose for where that thing’s coming off (the rim) at times.”

Morgantown’s Sadaya Jones (5) reacts after a play against the University on Thursday. (William Wotring/The Dominion Post)

Paige Smith hit a pair of triples to finish with six points and Wassick had four. Freshman Abby Paulsen also scored four. 

Already missing all-state center Lily Jordan with an injury, Paulsen was forced into the game when starting forward Lucie Hatcher picked up two first-half fouls. She responded with a pair of quick baskets and a couple of rebounds.

“Abby Paulsen came in and got boards and buckets in the first 30-45 seconds she was on the floor,” Goodwin said. “All of those are huge things that helped this team build confidence.”

With the win, Morgantown punched its return ticket to next week’s state tournament, where it will play to defend last season’s state title. The Mohigans are the No. 4 seed in the tournament and will play No. 5 Greenbrier East in the quarterfinal round on Tuesday, March 5 at 11:15 a.m.

Morgantown 59, University 42
MHS  14 8 17 20 — 59
UHS 6 9 17 10 — 42
MORGANTOWN — Wassick 2 0-2 4; Kellogg 4 3-3 11; Smith 2 0-0 6; Hatcher 0 1-2 1; Jones 13 3-5 33; Paulsen 2 0-0 4; Howell 0 0-0 0.
UNIVERSITY — Maisel 0 0-0 0; Braham 0 0-0 0; E. Simpson 3 3-4 9; Stemple 5 2-3 15; Weaver 3 0-2 7; Fox 2 0-0 4; L. Simpson 2 2-2 6; Johnson 0 1-2 1.
3-Pt. Goals — Morgantown 6 (Jones 4, Smith 2). University 3 (Stemple 2, Weaver 1).