By Steve Keenan
They were hoping for a storybook ending.
Instead, they were dealt a dose of bitter disappointment for a third straight year.
The top-seeded Fayetteville Pirates, their strength depleted at game’s end due to three starters and a reserve being banished to the bench because of foul disqualifications, saw their hopes for an elusive state tournament trip dashed when Man pulled away in the last two minutes to post a 79-71 victory in a two-overtime thriller in a Class A Region 3 girls basketball co-final.
“Three years in a row we’ve lost heartbreakers (in the co-final stage) and didn’t get to go to states,” said Fayetteville coach John Mark Kincaid. “It’s especially tough on (seniors) Erica (Hogan) and Jess (Brown). They were focused on getting to Charleston.
“We went at it. We just ran out of bodies.”
“I was just so proud of my girls,” countered Man coach Tonia Ward. “They dug deep.
“My girls really came up big in the end. They played with heart.”
In an entertaining, back-and-forth contest at the Fayette County Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building which featured one big run after another, the Hillbillies got the biggest one at the most crucial time.
Limping to the foul line after a collision, Maddie Pritt stepped to the foul line and sank a pair of attempts to give Fayetteville a 67-63 lead with 2:39 left in the second extra period. However, Man then got two big plays from guard Morgan Conn, who first scored on a drive then made a free throw off a steal to pull the Hillbillies to within 67-66. Man then continued its surge when Hannah Harvey scored a deuce off an assist from Conn, and Harvey then scored two more off a Fayetteville turnover to lift the Hillbillies into a 70-67 lead with 1:37 left.
Man maintained the pressure, getting a pair of charity tosses from Mika McCoy following a steal by teammate Jennifer Shull, leaving the Hillbillies in front 72-67 with 1:01 to go.
Fayetteville crept to within 72-69 on two free throws from Erica Hogan, but Man wasn’t to be denied, scoring seven of the game’s final nine points for the win.
Senior Summer Sword struggled somewhat at the foul line but made two key freebies in the closing minute and wound up with a game-high 32 points to pace Man (15-10), while McCoy was close behind with 27 points, including six in the third quarter to help Man rally from a 39-32 deficit.
“(Getting to the state tournament) was all Summer and Taylor (the team’s two seniors) talked about all summer,” said Ward.
Brown, the Pirates’ standout senior, finished her career with a 31-point performance. After struggling herself at the charity stripe, she made two big free throws with 12 seconds left in regulation to make the score 53-53 and force overtime. In the first four-minute OT, she helped lift the Pirates into the lead, scoring a putback and a free throw, assisting on an Avina Sedlock two-pointer, and finally working for two more points on the interior to make it 60-56 with 1:58 to play. However, she fouled out with her team clinging to a 60-59 lead with 50 seconds left, and Man eventually took a 62-60 lead on Sword’s foul shot with 12 seconds to go.
“They had no answer for Jess,” said Kincaid. “If she doesn’t foul out, we win the game.”
Avina Sedlock chipped in 14 points for Fayetteville, which included a two-pointer off a drive with six seconds left in the first OT that made it 62-62 and set the stage for four more frantic minutes. Pritt had 13, and Hogan scored eight.
The game was tied four times in the first half. Man led 16-11 after a bucket in transition by Sword early in the second, but Brown tallied six straight — two putbacks and a drive — and the Pirates moved ahead 17-16. Man then found itself trailing 20-16 before reeling off the last eight points to take a 24-20 lead into the lockerroom.
Fayetteville ends its season at 17-7.
Man will play No. St. Joseph in the Class A state tournament at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Valley, the No. 7 seed, will tangle with No. 2 Wheeling Central at 1 p.m. Wednesday. The Greyhounds defeated Tug Valley 62-58 Thursday.
Taylor Whited 1 1-2 3, Summer Sword 11 10-18 32, Mika McCoy 10 7-8 27, Morgan Conn 2 4-8 8, Jennifer Shull 2 0-1 5, Hannah Harvey 2 0-2 4. Totals: 28 22-39 79.
Jessica Brown 10 11-18 31, Avina Sedlock 7 0-0 14, Maddie Pritt 3 5-6 13, Erica Hogan 3 2-4 8, Kathryn Peelish 1 0-0 2, Alysia Sedlock 1 1-2 3, Alexa Roles 0 0-0 0, Kaitlyn Sisler 0 0-1 0, Sarah Roehrig 0 0-0 0. Totals: 25 19-31 71.
M 11 13 19 10 9 17 — 79
F 9 11 19 14 9 9 — 71
3-point goals — M: 1 (Shull) F: 2 (Pritt 2). Fouled out — M: Whited. F: Brown, Hogan, Pritt, Sisler.