By DAN STILLWELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
As expected, Class AAA No. 1 Greenbrier East and No. 7 Princeton prevailed Wednesday night in their Region 3, Section 2 semifinal games at the Fayette County Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building.
But there were a few surprises.
Princeton (18-4) survived a poor-shooting first half to defeat Woodrow Wilson 46-28.
Greenbrier East (23-0) jumped on Shady Spring early, put in its subs, and let everyone have fun in what might seem to some, a surprisingly close 69-60 victory.
The Spartans, the state’s last unbeaten team, will meet the Tigerettes at 7:30 p.m. Friday night in the sectional final, also at Fayetteville.
“Princeton will be a very formidable opponent,” coach Jim Justice said. “They’ve got a very fast team, they play pretty good defense and they have great shooters.”
Princeton, known over the years for its 3-point shooting, couldn’t buy a trey against Woodrow until reserve guard Jessica Inman finally sank one with 3:16 remaining in the first half.
While the Flying Eagles were going to their strength for scoring, a quartet of tall players inside, the Tigerettes had to rely on their defense and fast break for first half points.
State player of the year candidate McKenzie Akers scored just five points in the opening half, and Princeton hit just 7 of 33 shots (21 percent). Still, they led 19-16 at the half.
“I think they left their shooting in the dressing room,” coach Debbie Ball said. “We had to sit two because of foul trouble, but I knew if we could keep an even score, I knew we’d do a lot better coming out the second half.”
But Woodrow’s hopes of pulling an upset came to a quick end as Princeton went on a 15-2 run to open the third quarter.
Marissa Mullins hit two threes, Hannah Preservati added another, and Akers hit two jumpers and a pair of foul shots to quickly put the game out of Woodrow’s reach.
Princeton hit 9 of 21 second-half shots, or43 percent). The 10-13 Flying Eagles, turnover-prone from the outset, couldn’t respond.
“We lost focus in the third quarter,” coach Bernie Bostick said. “The second half we got down emotionally, and it was hard to come back.
“Our girls always play hard, and we’ve had a great defense, but we’ve had trouble scoring.”
Akers finished with a game-high 13 points while Inman scored nine.
Senior center Khadija Payne, at least six inches smaller than Woodrow’s front line, added eight points, nine rebounds and three steals.
“She’s been one of our leading rebounders,” Ball said. “She’s a big asset when it comes to playing bigger kids.”
Woodrow backup center Summer Butler scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds. Breanna Thompson chipped in eight points and seven boards, and point guard Sarah Akers had five points and five rebounds.
WOODROW WILSON (10-13)
Sarah Akers 2 1-2 5, Cavita François 0 2-2 2, Paige Lewis 1 0-0 2, Jasha Payne 1 0-0 2, Breanna Thompson 4 0-2 8, Bre Staunton 0 0-0 0, Summer Butler 4 1-2 9, Rebekah Cook 0 0-0 0. Totals: 12 4-8 28.
McKenzie Akers 5 3-3 13, Marissa Mullins 3 0-1 8, Khadija Payne 3 2-2 8, Hannah Preservati 1 0-0 3, Rachel Surface 0 0-0 0, Jessica Inman 3 1-2 9, Stephanie Lambert 1 1-1 3, Ashley Culicerto 0 2-2 2. Totals: 16 9-11 46.
Woodrow Wilson........................8 8 6 6 — 28
Princeton.................................7 12 20 7 — 46
3-point goals — WW: None; P: 5 (Mullins 2, Preservati 1, Inman 2). Fouled out — None.