CHARLESTON, W.Va. — North Marion had Ripley on the ropes early in Friday’s Class AAA semifinal.
Following a remarkable turnaround from the Vikings in the second quarter, it turned out the Huskies were the ones in need of a late rally. Yet for a program that annually expects to finish its season in Charleston, that wasn’t a problem.
After Ripley’s Sophie Nichols’ stuck a go-ahead three-pointer with 36 seconds to play, the Huskies pulled even on Aubrey Hamilton’s follow-up basket. North Marion then forced a jump ball, and with the possession arrow in favor of the Huskies, they got the ball back. Out of a timeout, North Marion guard Emma Freels got to the basket driving to her right and converted a layup in the final seconds, lifting the Huskies to a 45-43 victory over the Vikings.
“It was a great game. It’s a shame somebody had to lose,” Huskies’ head coach Michael Parrish said. “Back and forth, a game of runs and a lot of momentum shifts and great plays down the stretch.”
The No. 1 Huskies (24-1) will go for a 25th consecutive win and state championship Saturday against the winner of No. 6 Philip Barbour/No. 7 Sissonville.
Freels, who led her team with 17 points, wasn’t necessarily locked in on taking the shot. However, when she saw a driving lane to the right, Freels couldn’t pass up the chance to get to the basket.
“I turned and looked at coach Parrish and he was to go and I saw the right side was open and thought I had to take it,” Freels said. “Somehow it went in.”
North Marion and Ripley were tied at 43 apiece with 10 seconds left in regulation.
Junior guard Emma Freels gets the game-winning basket for North Marion to send the Huskies to the Class AAA title game tomorrow evening.
FINAL: North Marion 45, Ripley 43. #wvgirlsbb pic.twitter.com/RUuRokXgHV
— MetroNews HS Sports (@MetroNewsPrep) March 11, 2023
Were it not for Hamilton’s second-chance basket moments before that not only tied the game but enabled NMHS to set its full court pressure, Freels’ heroics may never have come about.
“I saw the ball in the air and I knew I had to grab that rebound,” Hamilton said. “It was one of the most important rebounds in the game. When I shot it I was kind of nervous it wouldn’t go in, but when it did I was relieved.”
The Huskies looked as though they were going to win rather easily by scoring 14 unanswered points to start the game. Olivia Toland accounted for seven of the team’s first nine points, while the first of Nichols’ six three-pointers was the only field goal the fifth-seeded Vikings could muster as they fell behind, 18-4.
“The girls played their hearts out this evening. You’re down in the first quarter and it’s like, ‘oh man, just warm the bus up right now,’” Ripley head coach John Kennedy said. “They’ve been fighting all season long and sure enough they did again.”
The Vikings, who did not make a substitution in either state tournament game and had won in the quarterfinal round less than 24 hours earlier, overcame the deficit entirely in the second frame.
North Marion’s lead grew to 16, but starting with Erin Ryan’s jump shot at the 6:37 mark, Ripley (20-7) outscored the Huskies 19-2 the remainder of the half.
That stretch included two triples from Nicholas and two more from McKennan Hall, one of which allowed the Vikings to trail 22-21. Hall’s two free throws 1:06 before halftime gave RHS its first lead and the Vikings made it hold up the remainder of the half for a 23-22 advantage.
“Those two have been our perimeter shooters all year long,” Kennedy said. “Those two definitely got the spark going there for us in the second quarter.”
Nichols’ output was made even more impressive by the fact she had three fouls early in the second quarter, though Parrish felt his team relaxed defensively after locking down in the opening quarter.
“We didn’t guard. We guarded the first quarter, in the second quarter, we didn’t guard anybody,” he said. “They got hot and hit a bunch of shots.”
Freels scored consecutive third-quarter baskets to break a 26-all tie and help send North Marion to the fourth with a 32-28 lead, though Ripley again had a response.
Despite falling behind by seven when Brooklyn Jackson made a trey to start the fourth-quarter scoring, the Vikings answered back with a 10-0 spurt keyed by consecutive triples from Nichols, and they led 38-35 when Hall made a jumper with 3:11 to play.
“During warmups I was stroking the ball,” Nichols said, “so going into it I was pretty confident.”
Toland hit a key basket with 58 seconds remaining to bring the Huskies to within 40-39, and after a Vikings’ turnover, Freels made two free throws with 43 seconds left.
That set the stage for Nichols’ go-ahead triple, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the Huskies from playing in their first state title game since 2011 when they wrapped up a three-peat in Class AAA.
“Every possession could’ve affected the outcome of that game,” Parrish said, “and we had good possessions down that stretch.”
Toland scored 11 points and had five steals, Hamilton added eight points to go with eight rebounds.
Nichols’ 18 points were a game high and came on six triples with only one miss from behind the arc. Hall added 14 points. The duo connected to make 8-of-10 threes and Ripley finished 8 for 12 from long range.
“This is a life lesson and sports teach that,” Kennedy said. “Games like tonight prepare these ladies for life because life is hard.”
(North Marion postgame press conference)