CHARLESTON — Logan scratched and clawed to give Fairmont Senior a fight on Friday in FSHS's undefeated run back to the state championship game. But when winning time arrived, so did the Polar Bears' big-game swagger and top-dog mentality.
With the Wildcats hanging tough and trailing by just five at 32-27 early in the fourth quarter, the Polar Bears — who had loaded their schedule with regular season tests, such as Wheeling Park, Parkersburg, and University — embraced the moment and delivered a clutch stretch in the form of an 11-2 spurt over a two-minute span to take a 43-29 lead with five-and-a-half minutes to play and essentially lock up their fifth state championship game berth in the past seven seasons versus Nitro on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
"Last year, our season ended the way we didn't want it to end (with a state quarterfinal loss), and knowing that and having that in the back of my mind, I was like, 'We can't do this again.' The amount of work we put in as a team and as individuals, there's no reason that we should not have come out with the win, and I'm very confident in me and my teammates," said Fairmont Senior junior star Marley Washenitz, who scored a game-high 26 points and had 10 rebounds and five steals. "So just having that thought of last year in the back of my head and with all the work we put in, we just weren't gonna lose."
"We knew (Logan) was a very scrappy, defensive-orientated team, and we knew it was going to be a tough game," Fairmont Senior coach Corey Hines said. "So when you have that type of formula, we know it's going to come down to basketball being a game of runs, and we were just hoping we were going to be the one to get the run."
Washenitz was at the forefront of Fairmont's game-cinching stretch, but operating right along with her was her friend and co-star, Meredith Maier, as the Polar Bears cleared out the side and went to their ace in the hole with the Washenitz-Maier two-person game.
Washenitz, who scored 11 of her 26 points in the second half, kickstarted the run when she reeled off seven straight points, as she drilled a midrange pull-up, cashed in a 3 off a give-and-go feed by Maier, and then picked a steal for a breakaway layup. And once Washenitz's personal frenzy got the Polar Bears a shred of breathing room at 39-27, Maier took the reigns to bury the Wildcats for good, as she scored six points of her nine total points while also assisting a pair of Bekah Jenkins layups to balloon the margin to 49-33 with 2:25 to play.
"In the back of my head, I just knew that I didn't want to go home and I didn't want to let this team [win]. We had come so far and I knew we had to come together," said Maier, who grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds to go with her nine points. "Me and Marley doing the two-man game, I think that really set us up to control everything and slow things down. So I think that really just changed the pace of the game and let us get our groove back."
"Fairmont Senior is No. 1 in the state for a reason, and for 2 1/2 to 3 quarters, we played right with them," said Logan coach Kevin Gertz. "Foul trouble hurt us in the first half and we were down at half and had given up 13 offensive rebounds to our three, but we've got big hearts and we fought hard the entire game. I wouldn't trade this team for any team in this state, boys or girls."
"We weren't scared to play anybody and we worked all season to get to this point, so we weren't going to get this far and shut down now," said Logan guard and star Peyton Idlerton, who had a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds, to go with two steals, two blocks, and two assists. "We came out the first three quarters and it was a close game, where they were probably getting nervous. People probably think if you're playing Logan, it's an easy bye, but we fought hard and I'm so proud of this team. We've overcome a lot this season and I think we proved a lot today."
But while Washenitz and Maier took Fairmont Senior to the promised land late, it was the entire Polar Bears unit that set the stage for the triumph with yet another tenacious defensive effort that unveiled the full breadth of their basketball intellect and teamwide chemistry.
Hines and his staff of assistants Corey Boddy and Ryan Sevier toggled in and out of myriad different defensive looks — half-court traps, full-court presses, switching man-to-man — and FSHS's core group of Washenitz, Maier, Jenkins, Emily Starn, Laynie Beresford and Reagan Blasher seamlessly communicated those adjustments at every turn. They traded off matchups possession to possession without a hitch, and they exchanged assignments within the same possession without a hiccup, as they wrangled in Logan's army of ball handlers with traps out high and thwarted the Wildcats' finishers with contests at the rim.
"I want you to say that again basketball intelligence and stuff like that — say it again so people understand, because we get a bad wrap where we play hard and then we get called dirty. And I'm not going to say how I really feel, but I watch other teams try to do a lot of things that we do and they don't do them as well, but we get labeled one way, while they get labeled as playing hard, like, 'Oh, that's good, hard tough play,'" Hines said. "I don't have kids who play dirty, I have kids who talk, who are very intelligent, and who work hard.
"They were diving on the floor, they wanted the loose balls, and they worked well together."
"I think it all just comes back to our chemistry, too on the floor," Maier said.
"Knowing that we all can guard each player on that team is really helpful." "And we all know, too, that we got each other's backs through that team chemistry," Jenkins said, "so say someone gets beat, we know for sure, we're going to have help side defense."
Fairmont Senior limited Logan to just 31.6% shooting and forced 19 turnovers, helping to offset the Wildcats' own spirited defensive efforts that held the Polar Bears to just 35.2% shooting, including 2-of-17 from 3.
"Corey had a hell of a game plan, there's no doubt about that," Gertz said. "We'd penetrate and we'd attack the basket, but it's hard to attack when you've got a girl three inches taller than you guarding you, and then when they switch, now you got one six inches taller than you who may be able to run faster than the one who was three inches taller.
"So they did a great job defensively, but we did a great job defensively. We held them to 19 (points) in the first half and we were right there."
The defensive excellence from both squads turned the bulk of the game into a fight in which both teams had to scavenge offense in any way it could. The first half, especially was a defensive bloodbath, as the two teams combined for just 37 points on 23.9% shooting with the Polar Bears taking a 19-18 lead into the break.
Fairmont Senior often found its offensive punch through Washenitz, who attacked the hoop with moxie all night long. She manufactured 15 of FSHS's 19 first-half points, including a highlight coast-to-coast finish in the second quarter in which she went behind her back in the open court and then to the spin cycle for at-the-rim finish.
For the game, in addition to the performances by Washenitz and Maier, Fairmont Senior also got eight points and five rebounds from Jenkins, five points and three steals from Starn, and two points, five rebounds and three steals from Beresford.
Logan, meanwhile, sustained despite foul trouble to Idlerton, as she along with Abbie Myers, Jill Tothe and Natalie Blankenship stood firm and steady in the face of Fairmont's crushing and ceaseless pressure.
Alongside Idlerton's team-best double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds, Tothe and senior forward Reagan Quick also added seven points apiece.
"I've never played with a team with so much heart. This is what we've worked for our entire lives and I wouldn't change anything about it," said Quick. "And I also want to thank the crowd, we couldn't have done it without them and it was a good way to go out for sure."
But in the second half, sparked first by a 10-0 run in the third quarter then its 13-2 stretch in the fourth, Fairmont Senior pulled away to keep its undefeated season going and bring its championship moment into focus.
"Making it this far as a senior, you just don't want to go home," said Jenkins, the Polar Bears' lone senior. "So we just want to win and keep going on our roll."