Bruce McKean
Contributing Writer

Region III Section 1 Semifinal

PCHS Varsity, 56
Fayetteville Varsity, 60

The Pocahontas County High School girls basketball team, unranked and the #4 seed in Section 1 of Region III, made the second long trip in four days to Oak Hill High School February 21 to play the Fayetteville Lady Pirates, the #7 ranked (AP Poll) and the #1 seed.  If you compared the two schedules the Pirates, with a 17-4 record going into the Class A Region III Section 1 semi-final, should have easily beaten PCHS with its 12-10 record.  The two teams played at Fayetteville last season during the regular season and FHS won 61-40, but the game was close for the first three quarters.  This season Fayetteville only lost by nine points to Class AAA #6 Greenbrier East at the East tournament in late December, and East sports a 19-4 record and just beat Princeton 76-37 in their sectional championship.  Fayetteville and Richwood were the two Region III teams voted the #7 and #8 seeds respectively of the eight teams who made it to states last season, and PCHS was determined to be the new kid in the region to beat them both in sectional play. 

Fayetteville is just up the road from Oak Hill, and the Pirate fans packed the gym and were  stomping the wooden bleachers and yelling relentlessly causing some PCHS fans to move across the gym to lessen the deafening yelling and stomping.  It quickly became apparent that Coach Mike Kane’s girls had come to play ball.  Senior all-stater Sarah Ryder was “on her game,” and she scored eight first frame points including hitting six of six free throws.  Senior Mary Kelly hit her first three, and freshman Alexa Taylor tallied five points, including one three. 

The second quarter defensive battle had about half the offense of the first, and four Lady Warriors and five Lady Pirates all scored two points each.  FHS senior Hanah Franklin hit a two at the half-time buzzer that gave Fayetteville the 26-24 lead.  The second half was tied twice late in the quarter, and the lead changed five times.  Their biggest lead was four point, and our’s was two.

Ryder again hit six of six foul shots in the third stanza and scored the quarter-high points of 10.  Fenton led FHS with eight points, while Kelly put up seven more.  The game was tied six times in the period with 13 lead changes, and it was all tied up at 42-42 going into the final frame.  Our biggest lead was five points, and their’s was four.  The Pirate and Warrior fans realized pretty early in the game that PCHS was there to play their best ball of the season, and everyone in the gym was nervous about the outcome.  The Charleston Catholic and Midland Trail teams were watching with great interest to see who their opponent might be in the section championship if they won in their game.

Both coaches played only seven players in the game, which is typical of close post-season games.  Ryder continued to be perfect at the foul line with two more free throws in the fourth frame for a 14 of 14 total for the day.  The Fayetteville fans kept asking about Ryder’s and the team’s total foul shot accuracy during the game.  Kelley also was perfect at the foul line with three of three in the fourth and five of five in the game.  FHS went ahead to start the fourth, but Kelley was fouled shooting a three, and she sank all three foul shots for the 45-44 PCHS lead.  Baskets by senior 5’9” all-stater Kendall Malay and 6’ sophomore Caroline Fenton put the Pirates up 48-45.  Ryder hit two foul shots and a two to cut the FHS lead to one, 48-47.  A Kelley three put PCHS up 53-52,  Hill hit four foul shots down the stretch as PCHS had to foul to stop the clock.  A three by Alexa Taylor cut the Pirate lead to 58-56, and the final score was 60-56.

Sports writer Steve Keenan of the Beckley Register-Herald quoted  FHS head coach John Mark Kincaid in his article on the game. “We easily could have lost that game.  We were really fortunate.  That team (Pocahontas County) came out playing real hard. Ryder had a phenomenal game.  We went into the locker room at halftime and told them that, as a team, we just have to rebound.”

Head coach Mike Kane was also quoted. “They (Fayetteville) rebounded a little better at the last.  We made a couple of bad passes.  All in all, we played hard, worked hard.  Fayetteville is a good ball club.  We’re happy to (give them a battle).  We needed all of the made free throws, and a couple more.”

Ryder, who has been a starter for four straight years, was game-high scorer with 24 points and eight rebounds.  Ryder’s career point total now stands at 1,120 which is fourth in school history behind Chloe Bland – 1,408, Tristan Day 1,178 and Jennifer Young 1,155.  Kelley accounted for 18 points including three treys that upped her season threes total to 66, which is second in school history and just two treys behind Shelby Snead with 68 in 2008-09.  Ryder’s career rebounds were upped to 703, second to Chloe Bland at 830.

Alexa Taylor was also in double digit scoring with 10 points, five rebounds and three deflections.  Senior Lindsey Hartzell dished out a team-high five assists plus four rebounds and three steals.  Sophomore Brianna Hefner and freshmen Charity Warder and Laila Calhoun each scored a basket in the game.  Warder grabbed four rebounds in the game.  The three top scorers for FHS were Hill – 21, Fenton – 15  and Malay – 15.

PCHS hit 92 percent of their free throws, 23 of 25 rebounds, for their highest percentage this season.  FHS  made 47 percent of their free throws, nine of 19.  The Pirates and Warriors grabbed 30 and 27 rebounds respectively and committed 17 and 18 turnovers.  PCHS drops to 12-11 on the season and FHS improves to 18-5 counting their sectional championship loss on Thursday to Charleston Catholic by the score of 41-42.  Catholic will host Meadow Bridge and Summers County will host Fayetteville in the two Region III co-finals on Thursday, March 2, at 7 p.m.  Summers beat Meadow Bridge 81-37 in the Section 2 championship.

PCHS came within four points of making it to their 16th straight sectional appearance which would have then assured a spot in their 16th straight regional final.  PCHS won 14-straight sectional championships from 2002-2015.  From 2002 to 2017, PCHS has won nine regional finals to advance to states. 

This group of seniors got to experience the state tournament in 2014 and in 2015.  Coaches Mike Kane, Allen Taylor and Chloe Bland and all the players deserve congratulations on how far they have come this season as evidenced by how well they played in this final game.