CHARLESTON — Not many state tournament press conferences end with members of the winning team exiting while singing “Party in the USA.”
But Wyoming East players, whom coach Angie Boninsegna has often described as “very laid back off the court,” did after winning their first state championship on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s a lot of pressure when you’re expected to win,” Wyoming East coach Angie Boninsegna said. “And we had injuries to key people during the season.”
Two of those “key people,” point guard Gabby Lupardus and guard-forward Kara Sandy, each scored 17 points, and East held Fairmont Senior to 18 percent shooting on the way to a 54-26 victory in the Class AA title game.
“The team did a wonderful job today,” Boninsegna said. “Defense (won the game). We knew we had to be strong because they are bigger and stronger than we are.”
From late in the first quarter on, the Warriors seized control and never lost it.
“Somebody made a play or hit a shot every time we needed it,” Boninsegna said.
When the Polar Bears took their last lead at 10-9, Lupardus, who doesn’t shoot the three much, made her third of the state tourney.
Then Sandy, who for the second straight day came in gave the Warriors a boost, drove to the hoop.
“It feels good to come back,” said Sandy, injured a knee last fall and missed half the season.
East held a 14-10 lead after the first quarter.
Sandy hit a trey from the left corner and later canned one from the right corner as the Warriors extended the lead to 24-14.
Lupardus committed her second foul in the quarter, but Boninsegna said she only considered pulling her for “a millisecond.”
“We need her on the court,” Boninsegna said.
Another bucket from Sandy, who had 14 first half points, gave WEHS a 28-17 lead at halftime.
Lupardus scored, and Sandy made a lay up on a run out as the lead grew to 32-17 early in the third.
The Warrior defense, meanwhile, forced 24 Polar Bear turnovers and made lots of hustle plays.
The Polar Bears trimmed the margin to 12 twice but never got closer.
Forward Allie Lusk said having 6-5 freshman Emily Saunders on the floor helps her work under the basket. (Opponents) concentrate on her,” she noted.
Saunders, who blocked seven shots and altered a bunch more, patrolled the paint throughout the tourney.
In one sequence late in the third period, she blocked a Fairmont shot and then scored on the other end on a put back.
Saunders (8 points, 9 rebounds) said she knew she had to be prepared for physical play from the Polar Bears.
“I had to play my game,” she said.
Another Saunders basket gave WEHS a 40-24 lead heading into the final period.
It was 42-26 with six minutes left, and Fairmont Senior didn’t score again.
Lupardus took it to the rim for two, and Misa Quesenberry hit a three to make it 47-26.
Boninsegna took out her starters over the last two-plus minutes, bringing roars of appreciation from the East fans.
Whether singing or playing hoops, the coach says her team is tight knit.
“This group has really bonded,” Boninsegna said.
And the party’s at Wyoming East.
Lupardus had 17 points and six rebounds. Sandy had 17 points and four assists.
Saunders (9), Quesenberry (5), Lusk (3), Megan Davis (2) and Jasmine Blankenship (2) scored also.
Abby Stoller had 11 for the Polar Bears, and Anysa Jordan added 8.
Wyoming East has won six state team championships in four sports … Wyoming County teams have won three of the last five girls AA titles. Westside won in 2012 and 2014 … Wyoming County teams have won 17 state basketball championships.
John Conley can be reached at 304-732-6060 or on Twitter @PIHnews.