By Michael Minnich
For the Times West Virginian
Leading by five points with 5:40 left in the fourth quarter, the third-seeded North Marion Lady Huskies had the game right where they wanted it.
But the sixth-seeded Keyser Lady Tornado (24-3) finished on a 13-2 run, stealing the first game of the Class AA state tournament Wednesday morning, 63-57.
For North Marion coach Mike Parrish, the problem was simple.
“No. 1 stat: 21 for 70 shooting,” he said. “We out-rebounded them. We had less turnovers. We had more steals. Just didn’t put the ball in the basket.”
It’s the second straight year that North Marion (20-4) has lost in the 3 vs. 6 game; the Huskies fell to Nicholas County as the 6-seed last year.
Keyser, on the other hand, won its first state tournament game since 1919, when it won twice at the first-ever high school girls’ basketball tournament in the United States, held in Spencer.
KHS will play No. 2 Westside at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
Anna Marie Moscufo scored 16 points and had 10 rebounds for the Lady Huskies, who shot just 30 percent from the field and missed 12 of 15 3-pointers.
“I feel like we played good in spurts, but didn’t finish it out,” said Moscufo.
Noca Singleton grabbed 15 rebounds, seven on the offensive end, but was limited to 19 minutes by foul trouble.
Presley Tuttle scored 14 points on 5-of-18 shooting. Megan Haller, who entered the tournament averaging 17.2 points per game, was held to nine points, seven of which came from the free throw line. She missed nine of 10 shots from the field.
North Marion grabbed 24 offensive rebounds, turning them into 21 second-chance points.
“It came down to putting the ball in the basket,” Parrish repeated. “We got the ball inside. We had good looks. Just didn’t put it in.”
All five of Keyser’s starters were in double figures. Lexi Taylor, despite being sick, scored 19 points and pulled down nine rebounds to lead the way.
“Pretty big when five players get in double figures,” said Keyser coach Josh Blowe. “We haven’t had that all season. That was very key today.”
Katie Hoban scored seven of her 12 in the first quarter to help Keyser build an early lead.
Brooke Staggers scored all 11 of her points in the third quarter, hitting her first two threes of the season, while Katlynn Tichnell also scored 11.
Lexi Carr was held to 10 points, nearly half her season average, but pulled down 10 rebounds, dished out six assists and turned the ball over just twice against North Marion’s full-court pressure.
“I thought we played pretty well, for the most part,” said Blowe. “We had a nine-point lead in a few places and let them come back. The girls fought hard.”
After exchanging early baskets, Keyser went on a 7-0 run that included five points from Hoban. After a Moscufo jumper, Keyser pushed its lead to six points, 16-10, on a Hoban tip-in and a Carr layup.
But North Marion closed the first quarter on a 6-0 run, getting a layup from Moscufo, a Christa Tobin jumper and two Moscufo free throws to pull the favorites even after one quarter despite a 5-for-22 performance from the field.
Then it was Taylor’s turn. Her own 6-0 surge pushed Keyser back ahead by that margin. Tichnell’s 3-pointer with 4:49 left in the half extended the lead to 25-16.
But baskets by Moscufo, Singleton and a Tuttle 3-pointer helped North Marion finish the first half on a 9-1 run. Still, Keyser led 28-25 at the break.
In a sign of things to come, Staggers nailed a jumper 34 seconds into the third quarter. She hit another long-range shot of the media timeout to give Keyser a 38-32 lead with just under four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Tornado stretched the margin to nine late in the third, but again North Marion finished a quarter with a flourish.
Tobin’s jumper, Nicholas’ layup and Tuttle’s tip-in made it a 3-point game again, 46-43.
But Staggers finished her magical quarter with a jumper with nine seconds to go to give Keyser a 48-43 lead going to the fourth.
After a Hoban jumper christened the fourth quarter, North Marion made their move.
Moscufo’s tip-in and Tuttle’s 3-pointer pulled the Lady Huskies within two at 50-48, forcing Keyser to take a timeout with 6:42 left.
It didn’t stem the tide. After a Moscufo jumper, Haller came to life, making a layup and three free throws in a 15-second span.
Suddenly, it was North Marion seemingly in control, 55-50, with 5:40 to go.
“When we played with energy, we looked pretty good,” said Parrish. “We’ve been talking all year about playing 32 minutes. We played about four or five good minutes out there tonight, and that’s when we made the run.”
But for the No. 3 seed, it was the high-water mark of a second straight loss in the “breakfast” game Wednesday.
“I feel like we played good in spurts, but didn’t finish it out,” said the senior Moscufo, whose class was part of North Marion’s last state championship as freshmen in 2011. “I hope we keep doing well and we make it back to states next year.”