CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In its state tournament opener Thursday, top seed Huntington got a major scare from Martinsburg, before rallying from an eight-point deficit to advance.
Being on the brink of elimination may have been the best thing to happen to the Highlanders, who won the inaugural Class AAAA title Saturday by using a strong second half to top No. 2 seed Cabell Midland 58-49 at the Charleston Coliseum.
“Martinsburg did wake us up and we knew we had to be better,” veteran Huntington coach Lonnie Lucas said.
The win gives Huntington its third state title and first since 2017.
“It’s hard to put things like this into words,” Lucas said. “Normally, I’m not short on words, but it’s great to get here and better to finish up like we did.”
Huntington (16-1) point guard Dionna Gray struggled offensively for much of the first half, but penetrated for a layup just before halftime to tie the game at 20.
It seemed to ignite Gray, who entered having scored 39 points over the first two games at the state tournament.
The junior point guard scored seven third-quarter points as both teams increased their offensive production.
“If my shots aren’t falling I know I need to take it to the basket more, which got us a bigger lead,” Gray said.
The Highlanders had 14 points in the paint in the third, but the Knights made 6-of-13 field goals and all four three throws.
With the game tied at 37, HHS freshman Jada Turner scored inside to send the Highlanders into the fourth with a two-point advantage.
Huntington led the rest of the way, as Gray and Ravyn Goodson accounted for five baskets in the first 4:07 of the fourth quarter. That enabled the Highlanders to lead 49-39, before Jayda Allie answered with a three-pointer for the Knights, who end the season 14-4.
“Their shots fell during that run and having to play catch-up was tough,” CMHS coach Matt Adkins said.
Although Huntington wouldn’t make another field goal, Highlanders’ senior guard Kaityln Swann made 7-of-10 free throws over the final 2:45 to seal the outcome.
“Kaitlyn did a wonderful job of knocking down free throws at the end, just like we did against Martinsburg at the end,” Gray said. “We took care of the ball, especially when we started to stall in the fourth quarter.”
Neither team led by more than five throughout a highly competitive opening half. LaTahia Jackson led Huntington with nine first-half points, while Imani Hickman had seven points and nine rebounds at the break, before second-half foul trouble limited her to 8 minutes.
“I did what I had to do to make sure my team got a championship,” Jackson said.
On the other side, K.K. Potter made all three of her shots and led the Knights with seven points.
However, after CMHS put together its best offensive stretch in the third quarter, the Knights made only 3-of-14 shots in the fourth.
“We missed a couple layups that could have changed the momentum,” Adkins said.
Huntington finished with only eight turnovers.
“We kept the ball in the right people’s hands,” Lucas said. “I thought we turned it over more than that, but if you say eight, I’ll go with eight. “Down the stretch, I wanted the ball in Dionna and Kaitlyn’s hands for when they started chasing us. If we’d have made any more turnovers, we’d have really been in trouble.”
Swann, Jackson and Gray tied for team-high scoring honors with 13 points apiece, while Hickman finished with eight points and 11 rebounds.
Allie led the Knights with 11 points. Autumn Lewis added nine points and 12 rebounds, while Jazmyn Wheeler had seven points and 10 boards in the loss. Potter finished with nine points and seven rebounds.