CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Not long after his team wrapped up its second straight Class AAA championship by virtue of a 47-42 win over top seed Shady Spring, veteran Fairmont Senior head coach David Retton took to to the podium to discuss the Polar Bears’ thrilling victory over the Tigers.
Retton was surrounded by his entire roster, and on a day when the No. 3 Polar Bears supporting cast stepped up and then some, it was only fitting.
“Our job as coaches is to come up with whatever it is that we devise that we think will work, but these guys get the credit because they bought into it and executed it, and they executed it in crunch time,” Retton said. “These guys are state champions and it’s hard. We knew that. We talked about how difficult it would be. However, we said if we stuck to what we needed to do, at the end of the night, we would be champions.”
Guard Zycheus Dobbs, responsible for last season’s heroics in the final seconds when he scored to send FSHS to a 60-59 victory over SSHS, was held to one point, one field-goal attempt and fouled out after totaling 46 points in a quarterfinal round win over North Marion and a semifinal victory against Elkins.
“To see Zycheus’ emotions after the game, there were tears. He was happy. Regardless of how many points, he was a huge part of it,” Retton said.
Freshman Julz Butler gave Fairmont Senior (27-1) a major lift off the bench and delivered down the stretch, while fellow guards Andre Grant and Connor Gower made major contributions. Combined with the another strong outing from DeSean Goode and the defense of Latique Williams, the Polar Bears prevailed against a team they’d lost to in the regular season by 20 points.
“Their role players did it last year as well. We overplayed at times which gave them shots on the other side of the floor,” Tigers’ head coach Ronnie Olson said. “That’s what good teams do.”
Much like last season’s state title game between the two, this one wasn’t decided until the final seconds.
The Tigers (23-4) began the fourth quarter on a 7-0 spurt to turn a 30-27 deficit into a four-point lead. That surge was keyed by guard Braden Chapman, who scored five straight points on a three-pointer and layup.
“Braden Chapman puts everything into every single play,” Olson said.
Shady built its lead to 37-32, but Butler’s trey at the 5-minute mark enabled the Polar Bears to trail by two. It also marked the start of a pivotal 10-1 run over a stretch of 2:28. Goode’s layup, Gower’s go-ahead three and Grant’s layup provided FSHS with its other offense during that stretch, allowing for a 42-38 advantage with 2:31 remaining.
“It’s a great feeling to know that my team and coach have trust in me,” Butler said. “Everybody believed in me and they told me that all year.”
(Fairmont Senior postgame press conference)
After Dobbs fouled out with 1:28 left, Chapman split two free throws to make it a one-possession game.
Butler, facing a 1-and-1 situation, calmly stepped to the line and made both foul shots for a five-point lead.
“For him to stay posted in that big of a moment shows how good of a player he is,” Dobbs said.
A Jaedan Holstein follow-up bucket helped Shady get to within three, and its deficit remained that on its final possession, but out of a timeout, Ammar Maxwell missed a shot in the paint with 12 seconds left, and Grant grabbed the rebound, before tossing a pass toward a streaking Gower, who sealed the outcome with a layup.
“It’s definitely a great feeling,” Gower said.
Shady scored the game’s first seven points and led 10-2, but threes from Grant and Goode allowed the Polar Bears to close their deficit to 12-10 after one quarter.
Consecutive baskets from Goode to start the second quarter allowed FSHS to lead for the first time, but seven second-quarter points from Maxwell, including a layup with 38 seconds left, enabled Shady to take a 21-20 lead into halftime.
“There was no overlooking Fairmont. This is a state championship game and it’s going to come down to the end,” Olson said.
Mixing man-to-man and a 2-3 zone defense, the latter of which they utilized far more than normal, the Polar Bears held the Tigers scoreless for the final 4:53 of the third quarter, allowing them to turn a four-point deficit into a 30-27 lead over that time.
(MetroNews Broadcast Highlights)
Grant made two free throws and Butler provided the other five points on a layup and three.
”We switched a lot and played a lot of 2-3 tonight more than we did all season,” Retton said. “It’s what the game dictated. They bought into it and executed it which was fantastic.”
“They did a good job switching their matchup zone and a man,” Olson added. “We fumbled some passes and missed some layups.”
Goode made 8-of-10 shots and scored a team-high 18 points to go with eight rebounds.
“Coach preached to us even thought we’d lost, he still trusted us and he had our back,” Goode said. “He told us what we had to do and said if we buy in, we’d have a chance. We all had to buy in and that’s something that helped our team.”
Butler scored 10 and missed only one shot. Grant and Gower added nine points apiece, Dobbs dished out a game-high six assists and Williams’ play inside was critical in holding the Tigers to two second-chance points.
“They stayed the course, trusted in themselves and their team and what they were doing,” Retton said.
Chapman scored 23 points in his final high school game and Maxwell, a junior, added 13. The rest of the Tigers made only 2-of-12 shots.
It marked the third straight appearance in a title game for Shady, which won the championship in 2021.
“We love to get physical. Physical games like this is what we thrive on. Fairmont is just as physical for us and they had a good game plan,” Holstein said. “They came in prepared. Their basketball IQ is so high.”
(Postgame “Round of Sound”)
Class AAA all-tournament team
Eli Robertson, Herbert Hoover
Andre Grant, Fairmont Senior
Cory Harper, Elkins
Cam Manns, Shady Spring
Malachi Watson, Elkins
Reece Carden, Scott
Braden Chapman, Shady Spring
DeSean Goode, Fairmont Senior
Ammar Maxwell, Shady Spring
Zycheus Dobbs, Fairmont Senior
(Shady Spring postgame press conference)