CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Wednesday night’s girls basketball quarterfinal rematch of last year’s Class A state title game between St. Joseph Central and Gilmer County lived up to the hype.
St. Joe (16-9) ultimately pulled away in the final four minutes to beat defending state champion Gilmer County 55-47 in a game that saw eight ties and 13 lead changes.
“They’re just a very tough matchup,” said St. Joe coach Shannon Lewis. “We were able to turn them over and the difference this year was that we made our free throws down the stretch. Last year, we missed (our free throws) and they capitalized on our mistakes.”
The Irish shot just 29.6 percent from the floor, but scored 17 points off of 30 Gilmer County turnovers. St. Joe also went 17 of 21 from the free throw line.
Gilmer County (22-4) shot 59 percent from the floor and out-rebounded the Irish 32-24 – but the 30 turnovers were too much to overcome.
“I’m very proud of this team – they battled,” said Gilmer County coach Amy Chapman. “They aren’t afraid to take on anybody and they proved that tonight. Even though we came up a little short, they’re still very inspiring.
“The (turnovers) hurt us all night – some of our decisions with the basketball,” Chapman said. “St. Joe put a lot of pressure on us and I think that was a big reason for some of our mistakes, not being strong with the basketball.”
The Irish held a slim, 23-21 lead at the break and the two teams were tied, 38-38, heading into the fourth quarter.
St. Joe’s Haylee Hunter gave the Irish some separation with 4:09 to go, drilling a 3 to put her team up 47-43.
“That shot was huge,” Lewis said. “I have confidence in Haylee. She was open, she’ll shoot it and she made it. That was a big bucket for us and it allowed us to play keep away a little bit.”
A pair of free throws from freshman Bailee Adkins extended the St. Joe lead out to 54-47 with 1:00 remaining.
Adkins went 8 of 8 from the charity stripe and finished with 14 points, but it was her defense that also was critical as she finished with seven steals – several of those coming while she already had four fouls.
“We work on defense and playing together as a team – we’ve played really good as a team these past couple of games,” Adkins said. “I gambled a little bit, but that’s the main part of my game, trying to steal the ball.”
Dena Jarrells and Alexis Hall also collected five steals apiece, while Hunter added four steals.
“We work on trapping a lot together,” Jarrells said. “When we come together, our defense is pretty tough. Most of it is instinct, but we do work on trapping a lot.”
Jarrells led the Irish with 17 points in the win and Paige Shy added nine points. Gilmer County’s Kylie Shuff scored 20 points, while Riley Fitzwater added 15 points for the Titans.
St. Joseph Central moves on to face No. 1 Summers County Friday afternoon at 1 p.m.
“Offensively, they’re a tough matchup,” Lewis said of Summers County. “They’re a very good team and very well coached. Being the five seed – our boys did it last year – we’re going to have a war every night, no matter who we draw.”