The Class AAA state championship garnered by Nitro’s girls basketball team won’t soon be forgotten.
Nor will the day a key member of that team — junior Lena Elkins — had on May 1. It’s all highlighted in Monday’s release of The Lena Elkins Double Play, a Pikewood Creative-produced video showcasing the thrill of that Saturday for Elkins.
“Ten, twenty and thirty years from now, this goes down as an-all time great moment within the state in high school sports,” producer Dan Lohmann said.
Elkins’ day began with one of two scheduled home softball games for the Wildcats, who first posted a 4-1 victory over Herbert Hoover — one of the state’s premier programs that has won each of the last three Class AA state championships. After the Huskies battled Independence, Nitro then faced the Patriots. With a scheduled 2 p.m. first pitch, it left Elkins with a narrow window before the basketball team’s title tilt with Fairmont Senior, which was to start at 5:30 p.m.
When the Wildcats and Independence went to extra innings, Elkins was up against time even more than what she had anticipated. The teams continued to battle until the ninth inning, when Elkins, a Charlotte softball commit, belted a walk-off home run that sealed a 6-4 win.
“I definitely would’ve had to leave if it would’ve gone any longer,” Elkins said. “I wasn’t looking at the clock until the eighth or ninth inning. If it would’ve ended in seven innings, it would’ve been fine and I wouldn’t have been up against it, but it ended up working out perfect.”
Elkins estimates that within 5 minutes after touching home plate, she had changed clothes in her mother’s car and got into a Nitro police cruiser that would provide the 20-minute ride to the Charleston Coliseum.
“I had no idea the mayor had gotten the cop to escort me to the game,” Elkins said. “My dad didn’t even tell me. I thought my mom and dad were going to take me. It was a really cool experience though and something I’d never done in my life and probably won’t get to do again.”
With basketball teammates greeting Elkins upon her arrival approximately 30 minutes before the game’s start, Nitro warmed up in preparation for the clash with the unbeaten and top seed Polar Bears.
An already difficult task for the Wildcats became much tougher when 2,000-point career scorer Baylee Goins fell hard to the floor in the second quarter and suffered a serious knee injury.
“We did it without Baylee and it’s still crazy to me,” Elkins said. “I get chills thinking about it all the time.”
Despite seeing Goins return to the bench writhing in pain and on crutches, the Wildcats never gave in. Instead, they put together an inspired effort and went toe-to-toe with FSHS, outscoring the Polar Bears 12-6 in the third quarter to take a 32-28 lead into the fourth. Elkins, who entered the title game averaging three points, scored four alone on consecutive baskets in the late stages of the third.
After Fairmont Senior scored seven straight points to overcome a 38-31 deficit, Elkins again answered the call by scoring five straight points. Nitro would go on to a 51-45 victory, giving the girls basketball program its first state championship. Were it not for Elkins’ 10 points, the outcome likely would have been different.
“I just tried to stay relaxed, not do too much and help out the team as much as I could when I was out there,” she said. “If I made a mistake, I tried to shake it off. Last year, I didn’t want the ball at all. It kind of came out of nowhere and I started doing stuff that I didn’t realize I could do. Then i got more confidence and it built from there.”
Complacency certainly didn’t set in for Elkins on the athletic scene following her state championship on the hardwood.
While Nitro’s softball season ended in sectional play, Elkins finished her junior campaign with a 0.69 earned-run average over 91 innings. She struck out 136 and walked only 22, while doing plenty of damage at the plate with a .557 batting average, six home runs and 24 RBIs.
Although there won’t be a second state championship in less than two months for Elkins, she will forever have the memories from that May 1 day — one that allowed her to achieve things that had never been done and likely won’t be duplicated in the span of one day.
“I was intrigued because of the historical nature of it,” Lohmann said. “I couldn’t think of anything more impressive in a twenty-four hour window. That’s a season for some what she accomplished in softball that day, let alone what she did on the basketball side. The gravity of the basketball was unique as well, because (NHS coach Pat Jones) helped bring her out of her shell and instill confidence. There’s a little more here than meets the eye. I’m always interested in what’s the story behind the story.”