CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A lot was working against Man throughout Saturday’s Class A title game at the Charleston Coliseum.
No. 3 seed Pendleton County had the game at its pace, the score around what it desired and a four-point lead beyond the midway point of the fourth quarter.
But the top seed Hillbillies refused to be denied of their first state championship, closing the game on an 11-0 run over the final 2:26 to earn a 43-36 victory and the Class A crown.
“They controlled us most of the game, but we got the breaks we needed and finished it,” Man coach T.J. Blevins said.
Man’s pressure wore on Pendleton County, causing 12 second-half turnovers and five over the final 2:45 that turned the tide in the Hillbillies’ favor.
“We made a few bonehead plays and it cost us,” Wildcats’ coach Ryan Lambert said.
After the Wildcats (17-1) got two free throws from Josh Alt to lead 36-32 with 3:05 remaining, they never scored again.
Caleb Blevins scored near the rim to cut the Man (16-2) deficit in half and Austin Ball’s follow-up allowed the Hillbillies to pull even with 1:46 remaining.
Peyton Adams put MHS ahead for good by making 1-of-2 free throws with 1:27 left. Adams hit two more free throws to make it a three-point game with 35 seconds remaining, before Isaiah Gardiner’s triple in an attempt to tie missed the mark.
“I held that ball in my pocket and took a few deep breaths and tried to calm myself down,” Adams said.
Adams’ two foul shots with 23 seconds left upped the lead to five and Ball punctuated the victory with an emphatic dunk in the final seconds to set off a frenzied celebration among the Man faithful.
“Oh my goodness — talk about chills,” Ball said. “With the crowd behind me, it’s something I’ve always dreamed of.”
The Wildcats gave Man a lot of trouble in the opening quarter, holding the Hillbillies to 3-of-11 shooting and getting five points from Tanner Townsend to help build an 11-6 lead.
“I give Pendleton County one hundred percent credit,” coach Blevins said. “They came out with a defensive game plan that I didn’t really see coming.”
Man trailed by four late in the opening half, but got a free throw from Adams and capitalized on a Wildcat turnover that led to Jackson Tackett’s layup to enter the intermission trailing 19-18.
“We fell short today,” Lambert said. “Our game plan and pace worked for about thirty minutes. In the last minute-and-a-half, I have to give Man credit. They made plays and we did not.”
Pendleton pushed its lead back to four on Gardiner’s conventional three-point play 39 seconds into the second half. However, Alt’s layup marked the only other field goal of the period for the Wildcats, who faced a 29-26 deficit entering the fourth after Tackett broke a tie with a three-point play of his own.
“They were playing physical,” coach Blevins said. “We took a little while to respond to it, but when we did, we got going.”
The Wildcats entered the fourth quarter 2-of-11 on three-pointers in 11 quarters of state tournament play, but quickly regained the lead on the strength of two Townsend triples.
“They stroked some threes on us that caught us off guard,” coach Blevins said.
Pendleton’s inability to score late proved costly, with Man’s Jeremiah Harless drawing a key charge on Bailey Thompson when the Wildcats had the ball trailing 37-36 with inside of 1 minute remaining.
“What really turned the momentum around is when Jeremiah Harless took the charge of his life,” coach Blevins said. “We take pride in taking charges all the time and he took one that was absolutely a game-changer.”
Ball led all players with 20 points and had 10 of his team’s 17 field goals. Tackett added 11 points and eight rebounds.
Townsend had 13 points to lead Pendleton, while Thompson added eight points, 11 boards, three clocks and three steals.
The Wildcats had won 40 straight contests dating back to the start of last season.
“They’re lengthier than us, long and athletic, but I think most people in the state thought it was going to be a twenty or thirty point game or that Man would score seventy or eighty points,” Lambert said. “I’m still extremely proud in what these kids put together.”
Class A all-tournament team
Rye Gadd, Webster County
Josh Alt, Pendleton County
Caleb Blevins, Man
Jackson Tackett, Man
Caleb May, Tug Valley
Bailey Thompson, Pendleton County
Austin Ball, Man
Tanner Townsend, Pendleton County
Peyton Adams, Man