It was the new kids on the block against the old guard.
The Bluefield Lady Beavers were looking to make their first appearance in the state tournament while the Summers County Lady Bobcats, winners of 10 state titles, were looking to go back to Charleston for the first time in three years.
When the final horn sounded it was the Lady Bobcats cutting down the nets as the Class AA Region III co-champions as they defeated the Lady Beavers 57-48 in a game that came down to the final minutes.
“Summers County is a very good team. They are one of the best programs in West Virginia since Northfork,” said Bluefield head coach Tony Mallamaci. “We knew we had our hands full going in and we knew we couldn’t turn the ball over.”
Bluefield’s Dazia Edwards got the home crowd on its feet as she scored the game’s first bucket and Bluefield moved out to a 6-2 lead. Early on the Lady Beavers were able to beat the Lady Bobcats’ press and converted shots. Summers drew even on Brittany Justice’s steal and basket and Deja Taxley’s two free throws late in the period gave Bluefield a 9-8 lead at the end of one.
Summers County claimed its first lead in the second and slowly moved ahead, by converting at the free throw line. In the second period the Lady Cats made 12-of-14 free throws and three shots from the field. Two of those field goals and eight of the free throws came from Whittney Justice. Bluefield meanwhile made three-of-seven charity tosses and only two shots from the field and saw Summers County carry a 26-16 lead into the break.
The teams played even in the third quarter, the Lady Beavers going inside to Taxley who scored seven points. Whittney Justice had five more for the Lady Bobcats and the lead remained at 10 for Summers, 37-27 to start the final stanza.
Summers County began to pull away in the fourth, going ahead by as many as 15 before Bluefield fought back. Midway through the quarter the Lady Beavers cut the lead to 10 and with two minutes remaining Destiney Sims drilled a three to pull Bluefield to within five. That was as close as the Lady Beavers could get.
Bluefield lost both Edwards and Taxley to fouls in the final minute as Summers County sealed the victory from the free throw line. Abby Taylor made five-of-six from the line in the closing minutes, the final two coming with 7.8 ticks showing on the clock.
“We turned the ball over a little bit, maybe not as much as we had, but we turned it over too much against a good team,” Mallamaci said. “Again inside shooting was a curse. We missed so many put-backs, which could have been four-point turnarounds. The effort of our girls, I am proud of. They played hard and gave a really good effort. They (Summers County) were just a little bit better tonight.”
Edwards and Taxley topped the Bluefield scoring column with 14 points apiece. Edwards also had 11 rebounds and Taxley nine. Sims scored 10 and Essence Brown grabbed eight boards.
Summers County head coach Wayne Ryan talked about going back to the state tournament after a two-year hiatus.
“It feels good. I am very happy for Brandy Morrison. She’s had a great career and she has a state championship. As a senior she really wanted to get back to the state tournament and our young kids got great experience tonight, stepped up and did a great job,” Ryan said. “It was a great team effort.”
The Justice twins, who are freshmen, led Summers County with Whittney scoring 25 and Brittney dropping in 15.
Summers County now advances to state tournament play next Wednesday in Charleston. Ryan tipped his hat to his regional opponent.
“Bluefield, we knew from the get-go that they were a good team,” Ryan said. “They really improved throughout the year. They are a very, very tough contest for anyone on any night.”
Bluefield concludes its season with a 10-9 mark and Mallamaci said the program’s growth will continue.
“I told the girls after the first PikeView game this year that we’ve got until March to make up 13 points and we did that,” Mallamaci said. “I told them tonight we’ve got a year to make up nine points to get back in this game next year. Hopefully that will be a motivating factor and they will work hard at it.
“There is one hurdle left and that is working on their individual game by themselves. Once this program gets the kids doing that, we’ll be up at the Summers County level on a consistent basis.”
At Brushfork Armory
SUMMERS COUNTY (20-3)
Avery Pivont 0 2-2 2, Abby Taylor 0 5-6 5, Brennah Davis 1 0-0 2, Audrey Holley 1 0-0 2, Brittney Justice 6 2-4 14, Kaitlyn Thomas 0 1-2 1, Brandy Morrison 3 0-0 6, Whittney Justice 6 13-17 25, Totals 17 23-31 57.
Tyra Jackson 1 1-4 3, Jesslyn Fullerton 2 0-0 5, Essence Brown 0 2-4 2, Jessica Hayden 0 0-0 0, Dazia Edwards 7 0-1 14, Abby Atwell 0 0-0 0, Destiney Sims 4 1-3 10, Deja Taxley 6 2-3 14, Totals 20 6-15 48.
Summers County...........8 18 11 20 — 57
Bluefield............................9 7 11 21 — 48
3-point goals: SC - None; BLF - 2 (Sims, Fullerton)
Fouled out: BLF - Taxley, Edwards