NEW MARTINSVILLE, W.Va. — Back on Feb. 2, Madonna’s girls basketball team beat Magnolia by 31 points.
When the teams faced off again Thursday in a Class A Region I co-final, it played out nothing like the regular-season matchup.
Instead, Magnolia used a 9-0 run over the final 2:45, turning a late one-point deficit into a 41-33 victory.
“I think it helps that most of our girls have been in this game before,” Magnolia coach Meredith Pilant said. “We kept using the fact that we had the experience in this game and getting to Charleston, so we wouldn’t lose our head and would stay focused. We knew what we needed to do when the game was tight and we did a very nice job of executing the game plan and staying with it.”
The Blue Eagles(17-8) advanced to the state tournament as a No. 3 seed, where they will battle No. 6 Trinity on Wednesday in a 9:30 a.m. quarterfinal.
Madonna (17-7) got off to a strong start and built a 10-5 lead after one quarter, but it was erased by the midway point of the second quarter after consecutive field goals from Kyndra Pilant allowed Magnolia to hold a 14-12 lead 3:57 before halftime.
“We missed four layups in the first period and at one point we had a five-point lead and I looked over and said, ‘this game could be 12 or 13 now,’ but we just couldn’t stretch it,” Madonna coach Rodney Boniti said.
Yet after falling behind by two points, the Blue Dons responded with a 6-1 run to go ahead 18-15 on Kennedy Martin’s layup. However, a basket by Madelyn Winters and a 3-pointer from Sierra Walker allowed the Blue Eagles to enter halftime with a 20-18 lead.
With Madonna utilizing a zone defense, Magnolia elected to run some clock during a third quarter that featured only nine combined points. The Blue Eagles managed to score six of them and Pylant accounted for the final four points to send her team into the fourth quarter with a 26-21 advantage.
“That’s kind of the style for both of us is to slow it down and control the pace of the game,” Pilant said. “We’ve held many teams under 40 this year and to be able to do that in the regional final, we’re very proud of that.”
The Blue Dons used strong defensive pressure to start the fourth on a 6-2 run and pull to within 28-27 on a Gia Riccadonna layup.
When Martin made a layup with 5:50 to play, the Blue Dons held a 31-30 lead, and they kept their one-point advantage after a bucket from close range by Andrea Alimario with 3:32 to play.
“We were down five or six in the fourth period and on the verge of being taken out of the game,” Boniti said. “But the girls, as we knew, would not quit fighting. This is the scrappiest bunch of girls I’ve ever coached. They brought the intensity and came back with a one or two-point lead.”
But with a chance at a conventional three-point play, Alimario missed the free throw and the Blue Dons never scored again.
Instead, Magnolia went ahead for good on Pylant’s layup, before Lara Smith drained a clutch 10-foot jump shot to give the Blue Eagles a three-point edge.
Magnolia then made 5-of-9 free throws over the remainder of the contest, which was plenty good enough to prevail thanks to the defense.
Winters scored 10 points in each half to finish with a game-high 20 Pylant added 11 points in the win and both players finished with 11 rebounds.
Outside of Magnolia’s frontcourt duo, the rest of the Blue Eagles made only three field goals, though two were 3s by Walker.
“There were a lot of times when Madonna had a chance to go on a run and our girls would come up with a huge defensive stop,” coach Pilant said. “Then Mady and Kyndra would take control inside on offense.”
Jazzy Melnyk led Madonna with 12 points, 10 of which she scored in the first half.
Magnolia also outscored Madonna 11-0 from the foul line as the Blue Dons missed all four of their free throws.