By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Thirty-two minutes. That’s the time in regulation play left for the Princeton Tigerettes basketball team to realize its dream and to qualify for next week’s girls state tournament at the Charleston Civic Center.
Those minutes will tick away tonight in the George Washington High School gym in Charleston, as Princeton meets the GW Patriots in a Class AAA, Region 3 co-final.
“It’s been four years since a (Princeton) team’s gotten this close,” said Tigerettes coach Debbie Ball on Monday afternoon.
“They’re excited about being one game away. On the other hand, we know we have to play hard. GW’s a good team. They know they’ll have to play their best to win.”
Princeton (18-5), which launched the season with six straight wins, was ranked seventh in Class AAA in last week’s final AP girls poll; George Washington (14-9) was ninth.
The Tigerettes have averaged 63.3 points a game and have given up 46.7 per outing.
Princeton was on a three-game win streak, including a 46-28 sectional win over Woodrow Wilson, until top-ranked Greenbrier East (24-0) tripped them up 68-51 in Friday’s sectional championship game in Fairlea.
But unlike the “old days,” the sectional loss did not end the season for one of the state’s most talented teams. The regional co-final format, with sectional runners-up advancing to the next round, has kept Princeton alive for at least another game.
“It’s never nice to lose,” Ball said, “but it’s nice, with the change they’ve made, that a team can lose in the sectional and still see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Two teams from the same section can make it to the state tourney as regional co-finalists. That pleases Princeton’s veteran coach.
“Our sectional has always been one of the best in the state, anyway,” she said.
Against Greenbrier East at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building in Fayetteville, Princeton sank 17 of 71 field-goal tries.
“I don’t think we could shoot worse,” Ball said on Monday. “At least we go into this game thinking we’ll shoot better.”
She added, “The kids have tucked (the Greenbrier East) game away, and put their focus on going into the GW gym and doing the best they can do.”
Ball noted that most of her team played summer league games in the George Washington gym, which she said is “quite different” from the Fayetteville facility.
“We’re really comfortable with their gym, actually,” she said. “It’s not something we’re concerned about.”
Eight Princeton seniors are making their final push for a trip to Charleston, led by state player of the year candidate McKenzie Akers, a Marshall basketball signee.
George Washington has been playing well recently, having won three of their last four games. The Patriots trounced Kanawha Valley rival Capital 61-35 in their last contest, a sectional championship on Friday on GW’s court.
In that outing, guard Alanna Mobayed had 11 points, seven rebounds, six assists, four steals and two blocks. Kelli Jo Harrison tossed in 17 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
In their only meeting this season, the Patriots topped Princeton 61-56 on Feb. 9, overcoming the Tigerettes’ 11 successful three-pointers.
Akers had 32 points, seven rebounds and three assists in that outing. Jessica Inman provided 14 points, and Hannah Preservati and Khadija Payne combined for 21 rebounds. For GW, Rachel Ward tossed in 20 points and Mobayed had 11 rebounds.
The score was 44-44 going into the fourth quarter. Ball said on Monday, “We had a better shooting night. We just didn’t put it together at the end of the fourth quarter to win it.”
“They’ve got a lot of weapons. They’ve got a lot of good shooters on their team, a lot of kids who can step up. Some you don’t hear about, but they will step up at key moments.”
That analysis has been informed by hundreds of minutes of action that Ball and her team have observed during this season and past campaigns — and during the summertime. And those assessments go both ways.
Ball said, “Actually, we’ve played a lot of the teams (in the summer) that have been in the top 10. We’re aware of the kids they have — and they’re aware of our kids.”
— Contact Tom Bone at