By JONATHAN GREENE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Bluefield had Nicholas County where they wanted after 16 minutes of play. The only problem was the Lady Grizzles weren’t going down without a fight.
Nicholas County rallied from a six-point first half deficit to edge the Beavers 52-43 on Wednesday night at the Brushfork Armory.
“First off, I love the facility,” Nicholas County head coach Tom McGirl said. “I knew Bluefield had a solid team. They came to play tonight.
“They pushed on us and our kids battled back. We ended up getting a nine-point win. I’m very happy with the win.”
The Lady Grizzles held a 4-0 lead to start before Bluefield battled back to lead 13-11 after the first quarter. The Beavers’ lead grew to 25-19 following a Sheila Hopkins’ three and Bluefield took a 25-23 advantage into the locker room.
Nicholas County came out strong in the third quarter as they limited the Beavers to six points while building a seven-point lead that Bluefield could not overcome.
“I thought we came a little flat in the second half,” Bluefield head coach Tony Mallamaci said. “First half intensity was real good. I don’t know what happened in the second half. We kind of got back a little in the fourth then it faded way.
“They’re a good team. They’re solid. We couldn’t cover everything they threw at us.”
Nicole Hamilton’s lay-up started the scoring and Lauren Young followed suite to give the Grizzles’ the early lead. It stayed a four-point game until Kaitlyn Thompson drained two free throws then Hopkins hit Khadijah Brown to tie the game at six-all.
Brown and Hopkins each nailed jumpers to give Bluefield a four-point advantage. It quickly disappeared, but Tyra Jackson drove to the basket for the bucket and the foul to give the Beavers a 13-11 lead after eight minutes.
The second quarter was back and fourth at the start. Bluefield began to gain momentum following a three from Jessica Hayden. Jesslyn Fullerton nailed a three then Hopkins added one for good measure to give the Beavers their largest lead at six points.
“We were hitting shots,” Mallamaci said. “The shots we were hitting in the first half weren’t falling in the second half. It’s all about the shots. If you start missing, you start thinking about it and it snowballs. But when you hit them, it goes the other way.”
Nicholas County closed the half on a four-point run which carried over into the second half.
The Grizzles scored the first seven points of the third quarter before Jackson had a putback to stop the run. It only slowed it down momentarily as Makayla Walls put back a miss and Mykenzie Martin hit Shealyn Shafer on a backdoor cut.
“We hit a couple shots,” McGirl said of what changed in the second half. “We normally are an up-tempo, man-to-man type of team. With Bluefield’s athleticism, we decided to come out in a zone and stayed it all night.
“Honestly, we hit a couple shots then got a few stops. With [Sheila Hopkins] getting into foul trouble, that let us go inside a little bit.”
Nicholas County’s lead was nine points after two free throws by Shafer, but Destiney Sims hit a free throw and Hayden hit her second three of the night.
“[Nicholas County’s zone] threw us off a lot,” Mallamaci said. “They’re primarily a man-to-man team. We worked primarily on our man-to-man offense. We had some kids hit some shots though. Hayden hit a couple three’s and Fullerton hit a three.”
Hayden drained another three to start the fourth to make it a four-point game, but that would be as close as Bluefield would get. The Beavers got within four once more following a drive by Sims. The Grizzles had an answer though with a three by Shafer.
“Anytime they play hard and don’t quit, I can’t be disappointed in them,” Mallamaci said. “That’s all I can ask them to do. I was real proud of them tonight.”
Shafer had a game high 15 points to pace Nicholas County. Young added 12 points and Alexis Brown finished with eight points.
The Beavers made just 16 shots from the floor as the Grizzles stayed in a zone the entire night.
“We’ve played them in the past and when we get into a man-to-man situation, they cause us to help and rotate a lot,” McGirl said. “We usually end up with Hopkins getting a lot of cheap baskets because she gets the match-up she wants. We wanted to zone it up and keep them in front of us”
The strategy worked as Hopkins had just 11 points. Jackson finished with 10 points while Hayden added nine points.
The Beavers host Wyoming East on December 27. Nicholas County plays Chapmanville in Charleston on Friday.
At Brushfork Armory
NICHOLAS COUNTY (6-1)
Lauren Young 12, Mykenzie Martin 6, Makayla Willis 2, Nicole Hamilton 6, Shealyn Shafer 15 Alexis Brown 8, Lindsay Hogan 2, Whitney Robinson 1, Carrie Huffman 1. Totals- 18 15-22 52.
Kaityln Thompson 2, Destiney Sims 2, Tyra Jackson 10, Khadijah Brown 4, Jessica Hayden 9, Jesslyn Fullerton 3, Abby Atwell 2, Shelia Hopkins 11. Totals- 16 6-11 43.
Nicholas County..................11 12 15 14 – 52
Bluefield...............................13 12 6 12 – 43
3 pt field goals: NC 2 (Martin, Shafer), BLU 5 (Hayden 3, Hopkins, Fullerton).