CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In the aftermath of his team’s Class AA semifinal victory over Chapmanville, Williamstown coach Scott Sauro said this of the Yellowjackets making 21-of-27 free throws: “If you’re going to win these type of games in the state tournament, you have to make foul shots.”
Never could those words have been more true than in Saturday’s state title game against No. 2 Poca.
Despite nearly letting a 21-point second-half lead slip away and not making a field goal in the fourth quarter, the top seed Yellowjackets prevailed 50-47 over the Dots at the Charleston Coliseum — thanks in large part to making 12-of-15 free throws in the second half and 14 of 17 for the game.
“You cannot win a state championship against anybody without having that kind of performance from the foul line,” Sauro said. “Those were crunch time free throws and we stepped up and made them. They mentally tough kids and that is a credit to them.”
On the other side, Poca (13-5) made 5-of-13 free throws, including 4 of 11 while it mounted a rally after halftime.
Facing a 40-28 deficit to start the fourth quarter, the Dots relied heavily on their defense to get back in it.
Isaac McKneely, who struggled after leading Poca past Charleston Catholic a day earlier, hit a jump shot to trim the Dots’ deficit to 40-38 with 4:38 left.
Sam Cremeans answered by making 4-of-4 free throws and Xavier Caruthers followed with a pair of foul shots to stretch the Williamstown (17-1) lead to eight.
“This is the biggest game of my career so far, so if it comes down to free throws, I want to be able to stick them and do whatever it takes for my team,” Cremeans said.
But McKneely responded with a pair of triples to get the Dots back to within one possession, and they trailed 46-45 after Kambel Meeks split two free throws. PHS had a chance to take the lead soon after, but McKneely missed two shots and Gavin Bosgraf hit a pair of free throws with 1:17 remaining to up the WHS lead to three.
“Sometimes it feels like you can’t throw it in the ocean and that’s how it was tonight,” McKneely said. “I’m going to get in the gym on Monday and come back even better.”
The Dots had two possessions down three late, but came up empty both times and the Yellowjackets’ Baylor Haught sealed the verdict by making two free throws with 15 seconds remaining.
WHS finished 0 of 5 from the field and 10 of 13 from the free-throw line in the final period.
“They were really good with their defense,” veteran Poca coach Allen Osborne said. “Cremeans hit some big shots early and they made their free throws when they had to make them. Give them credit. They made plays when they had to make them.”
Just as they did in the victory over Chapmanville, the Yellowjackets relied on a 2-3 zone and it proved to make a major difference.
Poca was held to 2-of-16 shooting in the opening quarter, while Cremeans, Caruthers and Haught each made three-pointers to help WHS build a 13-4 lead.
“I was pretty sure we couldn’t guard them in man and I was kind of sure we could guard them in zone,” Sauro said. “We had a lot of success with it yesterday and there were similarities of them and Chapmanville not playing against zone often.”
Things didn’t improve for the Dots in the second period as they were again held to two field goals, while Williamstown got eight points and two threes from Cremeans, along with a buzzer-beating triple from Bosgraf to lead 28-9 at halftime.
“When you get a three before halftime from Gavin Bosgraf, who doesn’t really shoot threes, that kind of stuff helps,” Sauro said.
But the Dots turned up the heat defensively in the third quarter and outscored Williamstown 8-0 off turnovers. Two threes from Meeks and another from Jackson Toney helped them outscore the Yellowjackets 19-12 in the frame to face a 12-point deficit with 8 minutes remaining.
“We dug ourselves a hole, fought and fought and almost got there,” Osborne said.
Cremeans had a game-high 20 points to go with six rebounds, while Caruthers scored 14. Haught had seven points and a game-best 12 rebounds, helping WHS win the battle of the boards 38-32.
“If you looked at the layup lines before the game started, I bet you wouldn’t think we’d out-rebound them,” Sauro said.
Fifteen of Williamstown’s turnovers came after halftime.
Ethan Payne had 12 points and nine rebounds for the Dots, while McKneely had 12 points and nine assists, but made only 4-of-22 shots.
Toney had a double-double of 10 points and 10 boards in defeat.
The victory gave Williamstown its first state championship since 1962.
“To win it against that coach and that player (McKneely), who are good as anybody in the state,” Sauro said, “makes this even sweeter because we have so much respect for them.”
Class AA all-tournament team
Aiden Satterfield, Charleston Catholic
Ethan Payne, Poca
Baylor Haught, Williamstown
Zion Suddeth, Charleston Catholic
Ethan Haught, Ritchie County
Xavier Caruthers, Williamstown
Isaac McKneely, Poca
Sam Cremeans, Williamstown