Upset stalls out

West Fairmont’s Jordan Hall (left) is hounded by Parkersburg South’s Kara Longwell during the Patriots’ 71-60 win over the Polar Bears Friday night.

Following West Fairmont’s win over Preston Wednesday night, Valarie Jasper and her teammates knew what challenge loomed ahead two days later.

That’s when defending Class AAA girls’ state basketball champion Parkersburg South would come to town.

“We have to play our game. We just need to come out excited and ready to go,” Jasper said. “If we don’t, they’re pretty much going to stomp on us.”

The way Parkersburg South began the game, it appeared a blowout was on the horizon.

However, the Polar Bears trimmed a 20-point lead down to six in the fourth quarter before the third-ranked Patriots pulled away for a 71-60 win Friday night.

“Coming into their gym, we expected a good game — and it was,” South head coach Scott Stephens said. “It was fun. It was real exciting.”

This was the second of two meetings between the teams as South won 75-55 on its home floor back on Dec. 8 in a game closer than the final score indicated.

And it was the second straight year West threatened to spring the upset on South here as the Patriots escaped for a 67-63 win last season.

A 20-point deficit just was too much to overcome.

“We’re really proud of the effort we put out,” West head coach Meredith Anderson said. “It’s really a testament to how much heart they have. They absolutely did not give up.”

South got off to a quick 16-6 start with its full-court pressure defense that forced West into nine first-quarter turnovers.

Then after pulling within six at quarter’s end, West got to within 25-22 on Mary Donato’s 3-pointer with 7:01 left in the opening half.

That’s when the Patriots again used their in-your-face defense to spark an 18-1 run over a near six-minute span, building a 43-23 lead. South led 45-28 at the break.

“We take a lot of pride with how we play defense,” Stephens said. “We believe defense wins championships. And if you’re going to win championships, you have to play defense. So we spend a lot of time working on it.”

Both squads exchanged baskets throughout most of the third quarter as things turned into the Jasper and Taylor Phillips show.

South’s Phillips had nine of her game-high 26 points in the third while Jasper tallied eight of her team-high 18 in that span.

Trailing 56-36 at the 3:41 mark, West finally made its run.

Four different Polar Bears keyed a quarter-ending 12-0 spurt that pulled West within 56-48 after three quarters.

Jasper had a steal and layup, Jordan Hall and Morgan Cain each drilled a 3-pointer, and Michelle Wilson started and capped the run with two stickbacks.

“You know, I asked the kids to cut it to 10 points going into the fourth quarter, and we were down eight,” Anderson said. “We handled the press better in the second half and got some turnovers. But I think we got some defensive rebounds that allowed us to create some early offense.”

South quickly increased the lead back to double digits at 62-50, but Donato converted a three-point play and Hall canned her second 3-pointer as West cut its deficit in half, 62-56, with 5:26 remaining.

It was still a six-point game at the 3:22 mark and just a seven-point difference with a little more than two minutes left in the fourth quarter at 66-59.

South, however, created some crucial turnovers late, made its free throws and escaped with a hard-earned 11-point victory.

The Polar Bears committed 21 turnovers compared to 15 by the Patriots.

“I was really pleased to see that nobody got so daggone scared that we didn’t have anybody who wasn’t willing to step up and take a shot when it was down to six points,” Stephens said. “That’s always nice for a coach to see that they want the ball, they still want to finish, and they still want to take it to the hole.”

Two other Patriots joined Phillips in double figures scoring. Kim Stephens contributed 17 points before fouling out, and Danielle Floyd added 11.

The Polar Bears also had three players score in double digits, including Jasper’s 18 points and eight rebounds. Wilson hit for 15 points and five boards, Donato chipped in 10 points, and Hall tallied eight.

“To go down at halftime by 17 and come out by not quitting and not giving up, and continuing to execute the things we’re trying to do shows that we’ve really matured as a team,” Anderson said. “We’re coming together, and things are really starting to pay off for us.”

E-mail Andrew Manzo at dmanzo@timeswv.com.

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