CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Any defensive game plan against Webster County is centered around Highlanders’ sophomore guard Sydney Baird.
Baird surpassed 1,000 career points as a sophomore and led the Highlanders to a No. 5 seed in the Class A state tournament with an average of 30 points this season.
So in Tuesday’s state quarterfinal at the Charleston Coliseum, fourth-seeded Tucker County was determined to prevent Baird from ending its season. Thanks in large part to junior guard London Hood, the Mountain Lions limited Baird and advanced with a 50-38 victory.
“I just knew going into the game she’s a great scorer and can obviously shoot the ball,” Hood said. “I had to be ready for her and take the challenge to help our girls out. My team gave me as much help as they could off of the screens and that really helped me a lot.”
The win allows Tucker (17-4) to take on top seed Tug Valley in a semifinal Thursday. The Mountain Lions are at the state tournament for a 17th straight season, but haven’t won or played for a title since 1998 — when they were in Class AA.
“We have a great Tug Valley team to get ready for and if we get that one Thursday, I’ll talk for twenty or thirty minutes about the championship game,” Mountain Lions’ coach Dave Helmick said. “Seventeen straight years and every year I say I enjoy going down here, but I’m ready to win one.”
While Baird scored all but 15 of her team’s points, she attempted 34 of its 53 field goals and was held to 8-of-34 shooting.
“They played man-to-man and sometimes we struggle with a man-to-man,” Webster coach Sharon Baird said. “We couldn’t get our offenses going tonight. Sydney wasn’t hitting to begin with and she got down on herself a little and then pulled herself back up in the fourth quarter and tried to get going again.”
Outside of Baird making the game’s first basket, the Highlanders (14-3) never led.
The Mountain Lions seized control of the contest by outscoring Webster 13-2 over a stretch of 4:22 that spanned the end of the first quarter and start of the second. It allowed Tucker to build a 19-8 lead, and although the Highlanders charged back, they faced a 25-18 deficit at the break.
Holly Perine’s triple brought Webster to within four 32 seconds into the second half, but it would get no closer.
The Mountain Lions outscored the Highlanders 15-4 over the remainder of the third quarter, with Hood (seven points) and freshman Macy Helmick (eight points) combining to produce all the offense.
“The first half, it was my first time down here and there were some nerves definitely,” Macy Helmick said.
The Highlanders never got the deficit to single digits in the final quarter, though a 6-0 spurt allowed them to trail by 10 with 1:11 left.
“It was just too late,” coach Baird said. “We couldn’t catch up with them.”
Kadie Colebank scored 10 of her 16 points in the opening half, with Webster struggling to find an answer for the 6-1 sophomore. Colebank led all players with 13 rebounds.
“Since we have such a big advantage inside, we always try to use that and not force it,” Colebank said.
Helmick scored 10 of her 16 points in the second half to tie Colebank for Tucker’s high-scoring honors.
Hood finished with 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting, nine assists, five rebounds and a pair of steals.
“She accepted the challenge today of guarding one of the best scorers in the state and she had it in her mind that she wasn’t going to let her beat us,” coach Helmick said. “But also what she did and she’s done for us all season is share the ball.”
Baird wasn’t far off her average with 23 points and made all seven of her foul shots in the loss, but no other Highlander scored more than six.
Webster was outscored 34-18 in the paint, though it held a 14-7 edge in points off turnovers.