BECKLEY — Distractions were aplenty Tuesday before Class AAA No. 6 Woodrow Wilson and Princeton girls clashed for the first time this season in the opening round of Region 3, Section 2 tournament play.
Teachers across the state of West Virginia had went out on strike earlier in the day, leaving games in limbo. Impending bad weather forced the sectional battle to be moved up to 6 p.m.
Plus there was the overwhelming opinion that the Lady Flying Eagles would move into Friday’s championship game against No. 2 Greenbrier East with relative ease.
Call it distractions, call it overconfidence, but one thing was for sure, the underdog Tigerettes came to play.
"We played the best game that we played all season. We saved it for the last game, which is a shame. But we left it all out on the court," said Princeton first year head coach Tracy Raban. .
"We executed the game plan well. We just got outnumbered."
After trailing the entire first half, Woodrow cranked up the defense and Laken Ball provided the offense that lifted the Lady Flying Eagles past the upset-minded Tigerettes 66-45.
The final score was by no means indicative of the how tight the game was all night.
“You have to give credit to Princeton tonight,” Woodrow Wilson head coach Brian Nabors said. “They came with a great game plan, ready to play and they had us on our heels. We had just a horrible start, but I am really glad we were able to regroup at halftime and come back out and play better basketball.”
The game had the makings of an upset early as Woodrow struggled to convert on easy looks and turned the ball over in bad spots, and Princeton came out firing on all cylinders.
Madison Parsons drilled a 3-pointer on Princeton’s first trip down the floor that sparked an 8-0 run and a quick Woodrow timeout. The Lady Flying Eagles responded with a 9-0 run to take its first and only lead of the opening half.
However, Princeton had the answer for every attempt by Woodrow to take control of the game. Taylor Scott scored two of her 19 points on a tough turnaround jumper to regain the lead, and her 3-point attempt found nothing but net in the second quarter. Princeton led 26-17.
Woodrow (13-8) closed the half on an 11-3 run to pull within one at the break, but it was clearly anybody’s game coming out of the locker room.
“We just told them there was no tomorrow. If you lose this game, this is it. You don’t have another opportunity to redeem yourself,” Nabors said. “I don’t think Laken Ball wanted to have her last game here on her home floor in a sectional game.”
“It was tough in the first half,” Ball said. “We weren’t talking on defense and getting back like we should. Coach told us in the locker room that this could be your last game and I couldn’t let this be my last game.”
Along with Ball’s inspired play, Woodrow made one other adjustment that would hamper Princeton (8-10) over the next 16 minutes.
“I was a little disappointed in our man-to-man defense,” Nabors lamented. “We weren’t doing a good job of moving as the ball moved and (Princeton) hit some tough shots. We changed up the defense and went to more of a matchup type of zone with man-to-man principles. I thought we did a good job of making them take some tough shots and I thought we did a much better job on the glass to get out in transition and get some easy buckets.”
The Lady Flying Eagles went right to work getting the ball to their senior leader and, in turn, changed the game. Ball scored in the lane to give Woodrow back the lead before Maddie Blankenship hit a tough runner to regain the advantage.
Five straight points from Ball gave Woodrow the lead for good. It would go as high as 11 points twice before settling at 49-40 after three quarters.
“I challenged our kids tonight,” Princeton head coach Tracy Raban said. “We have been waiting for that kind of output all year long and I just told them in the locker room, they saved their best for last. No one gave us a chance in this game except the 10 or 11 on the bench. They executed our defense like we wanted to, we just got outnumbered in strength and size, but we fought as long as we could.”
A steal by Woodrow to open the final period led to a Liz Cadle layup. Another steal was capped by a 3-pointer from Victoria Staunton and a third led to another Staunton score as Woodrow Wilson finally pulled away for the win.
Ball tallied 21 points — 15 in the second half — to will her team to victory, and her final two free throws of the night pushed her over 1,000 points for her career.
“I knew I was close to 1,000, and I wanted to get it here on my home floor,” Ball said, smiling. “It was great that it was a free throw. I thought it was going in as an and-1, but I got a little close. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates.”
Woodrow Wilson now awaits either Greenbrier East or Riverside in the championship game set for Friday at 7 p.m. Greenbrier East and Riverside were postponed Tuesday night, and a reschedule date has not been determined.
Raban will lose two senior starters off of this year's late-blooming squad and will return five players who saw a lot of action in 2018-19.
"A game you're supposed to get beat by about 50 and you lose by 21, it gives you hope for the next season. The girls played hard and they have a positive attitude to get started for next season," Raban said.
At Woodrow Wilson
Taylor Scott 19, Madison Parsons 4, Lauren Parrish 3, Maddie Blankenship 11, Sadie Boggess 7, Laken Dye 1. Totals: 13 14-23 45
WOODROW WILSON (14-8)
Liz Cadle 10, Laken Ball 21, Cloey Frantz 9, Victoria Staunton 13, Jamara walton 2, Olivia Ziolkowski 4, Adriana Law 4, Caroline Fenton 3. Totals: 25 11-22 66
Princeton.................18 11 11 5 — 45
Woodrow................ 14 14 21 17 — 66
3-point goals: P: 5 (Scott 3, Parsons, Boggess), WW: 5 (Cadle, Ball, Frantz 2, Staunton). Fouled out: None