RED JACKET, W.Va. – Poca jumped out to a 17-9 first quarter lead and led 25-13 at the half, but had to fight off a furious comeback by the Lady Miners of Mingo Central on Wednesday night to come away with a 45-38 win in the Region 4 co-championship game.
The Dots fired in six 3-pointers in the first half and shot a high percentage from the field. Poca had nine treys in the game, three each by Casey Skeens and Madi Ord.
Autumn Smith swished in a big 3-pointer as part of a closing 8-0 run in the first half as Poca went into the dressing room at the half with a comfortable lead.
The Dots (18-7) built up their lead to 15 in the third quarter on a long 3-pointer from Molly Collins.
But after a timeout Mingo Central calmed down and began their comeback attempt.
Mingo Central coach Brandon Ball and his staff changed from a zone to a man-to-man defense and that turned the tide for the Lady Miners.
Mingo Central (18-7) only scored four points in the second quarter, but they came out in the second half and looked like a different team.
The Lady Miners actually pulled to within 36-34 with 5:48 remaining in the game, but could never take the lead. Mingo Central spun off a solid 21-8 run to close the gap all the way down to just two points.
Kylee Varney and Katie Ball combined to score 13 points, seven for Varney and six for Ball, in the third quarter. Ball, who averages about 14 per game, was held scoreless in the first half due to double-teams and a collapsing zone defense by Poca.
Xziah Rhodes had six in the first half for the Miners while Ord had eight and Skeens seven in the first half for Poca.
“Dug ourselves a deep hole in the first half,” Ball said. “They came out hot so we switched to the man defense. I thought our girls responded well, but we just came up a little bit short. I told our girls all year long I could live with missed shots as long as the effort was there. I’m proud of them – sometimes the ball just doesn’t bounce your way.
“I want to congratulate Poca, they have a really good team. They showed great sportsmanship and I want to wish them the best in the state tournament.”
“It was a team effort tonight,” Poca coach Kenny Sayre said. “We hit some big shots – especially early in the game. Skeens and Fisher really stepped up for us. We are excited to be going to the state tournament. I’m really proud of our team.”
Poca’s Fisher and Skeens, a Division I softball signee at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Mich., hit some clutch free throws in the closing seconds to help pull out the win and the regional championship.
Mingo was 4-for-4 at the free throw line for 100 percent, while Poca was 6-for-11 for just 54 percent, but hit 5-of-7 in the final quarter.
Varney finished with 12 points and Xziah Rhodes ended with 10 points and 10 rebounds and Ball finished with 10 points. Tyshira Joplin, a senior playing in her last game, scored six points.
Mikazia Rhodes, also a senior, didn’t score but Ball said she is the team’s defensive stopper and did a good job of pressuring Poca’s point guard in the second half.
Skeens had a game-high 15 for the Dots, while Ord finished with 11 and Chandler chipped in seven.
Aubrey Chandler had seven points to go with nine rebounds, and both she and Skeens finished with five assists.
Varney is only a sophomore while Xziah Rhodes and Ball are both freshmen, so Ball feels the future is bright for the Lady Miners. He also has some young players on the bench who will be back and he says the middle school feeder programs will eventually send some players into the program.
This is the first trip to the state tournament for Poca since 1999. Mingo Central, which has only been a school for six years, is still looking for their first trip to Charleston.
“I guarantee we will be back next year,” Coach Ball said.
Kyle Lovern is the Managing Editor for the Civitas Media Mountain District including the Williamson Daily News and Logan Banner. He can be contacted at [email protected] or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2277 or on Twitter @KyleLovern.