CHARLESTON — Playing with the same determination and effort they displayed during their record-setting season, the Buckhannon-Upshur girls took control early in coasting to a 56-36 victory over St. Albans Wednesday in Class AAA quarterfinal play at the Charleston Civic Center.
The second-seed Lady Bucs are now 23-3 on the season and it was their first state tourney win since 2000. They will face either Martinsburg or Wheeling Park at 9 p.m. today in the semifinals.
“It was nice to come down here and get [a win],” said Jeremy Maxwell, who has guided the Lady Bucs to Charleston in each of his three seasons as head coach. “It was big for our program to get over that hump. We’ve lost in the first round that past two seasons and this group of girls was determined to not let that happen this time.”
Maxwell knows what it takes to succeed in Charleston, as he was part of several Tucker County teams during his playing days that shined under the spotlight of the Civic Center floor.
“It takes lots of focus and this group has it,” he said. “When I did our bed check [on Tuesday night], everyone was pretty much asleep before 10 o’clock.
“So I knew they weren’t thinking of anything else. With that type of focus on a goal, they’re going to be dangerous.”
The team’s floor general, Hanna McClung, made a statement early in the contest, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to start the game and St. Albans was never able to recover.
“I though we lost the game in the first four minutes,” Lady Red Dragon coach Scott James said. “[Hanna] buries two [3-pointers] right off the bat and we were playing from behind the entire game.
“But our girls didn’t quit. They fought and they fought hard.”
The lead gradually continued to swell in the opening quarter and Lauren Bennett’s jumper with 3:06 left in the canto stretched the advantage to 13, at 15-2.
In the second quarter, however, the offensive production stalled for B-U and St. Albans made a mini run to get back into contention.
After Alli Robinson, who briefly left the court in the first quarter with an injury, knocked down a jumper to give B-U a 20-9 edge, the Lady Red Dragons embarked on a 6-0 run to get back within five (20-15) with 1:19 left in the half.
But a turning point on the contest then occurred when a jumper by Bennett was followed up by a key 3-pointer from McKinley Gaudet that allowed B-U to reestablish a double-figure lead, at 25-15, at the intermission.
“That was a big exchange for us,” Maxwell said. “We kind of got into a scoring slump in the second quarter then McKinley knocks down a big three to give us back the momentum.”
The lead never got below double digits in the second half as the Lady Bucs started the third quarter on a 9-2 run to take control.
Senior forward Makayla Reynolds, playing in her fourth game since returning from a broken ankle, had four points during the surge, while McKinley Gaudet knocked down the third of her four 3-pointers on the day and Robinson’s layup extended the margin to 34-17 with 4:18 left in the canto.
St. Albans got to within 10, at 38-28, after a layup by Haleigh Bennett with less than a minute remaining in the quarter but the Lady Red Dragons came no closer the rest of the way.
B-U took its biggest lead of the contest in the fourth quarter, at 22, on a pair of free throws from McClung with 1:06 left.
The Lady Bucs connected on 21-of-42 of their field goals, including a combined effort of 6-of-11 from beyond the arc by McClung and McKinley Gaudet.
McClung led the team with 15 points, followed by Reynolds and McKinley Gaudet with 12 each.
Bennett had just four points but was the team leader with five assists and three steals.
“We shot about 50 percent from the floor, took less shots and were still able to win,” Maxwell said. “We have a lot of threats, even coming off the bench, and when we move the ball and get all those threats a touch, we can be a dangerous team on the offensive end.”
Maxwell added additional praise for his reserves.
“Any of those girls would start for other teams,” he said. “But they accept their role for us and do whatever it takes for us to succeed.
“That depth is what has made us a much better team this year and especially in Charleston. Whenever somebody is struggling, they have that next-person up mentality.”
Jaden McDaniels had 15 points and Legg 12 for St. Albans, which was playing in the state tourney for the first time since 1995.
The Lady Bucs are somewhat familiar with both teams they could face in the semifinals. They dropped a tough 45-43 decision at Wheeling Park back on Feb. 4, which was their last lost and came the afternoon after playing Lewis County the night before. Meanwhile, they handed Martinsburg a 62-54 defeat in a home game last season.
“It will be a very tough game whoever it is and we need to come out ready to play. We faced Martinsburg last year and Park earlier this season, so we know about them both.”
“We’re excited about the opportunity we have [tonight] and are looking forward to it.”
Huntington and South Charleston meet in the other semifinal at 5:30 p.m. today. The championship game is set for 7:15 p.m. Saturday.
The Lady Red Dragons ended their season 17-9.
St. Albans (17-9)
Jaden McDaniels 6-13 3-3 15, Haleigh Legg 6-13 0-0 12, Megan Thornburg 1-5 2-2 4, Madeline Oxley 1-1 0-0 2, Valessa Jackson 0-3 0-0 0, Aamiyayh Washington 0-1 0-0 0, Kalie Swearingen 0-0 0-0 0, B.B. Clark 0-0 0-0 0, Kamryn Hedrick 0-0 0-0 0, Emma Parsons 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-47 5-5 36
Hanna McClung 4-12 2-5 15, Alli Robinson 2-2 1-4 5, Lauren Bennett 2-4 0-0 4, Reynolds 6-10 0-0 12, Lauren Louk 0-1 2-2 2, McKinley Gaudet 4-7 4-7 0-0 12, Audrey Gaudet 2-4 0-0 4, Sydney Maxwell 1-2 0-0 2, Ashton Maxwell 0-0 0-0 0, McKenzie Kittle 0-0 0-0 0, Tatiyana Caesar 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-42 8-12 56
St. Albans 7 8 13 8 — 36
B-U 18 7 13 18 — 56
3-point goals — St. Albans 1-9 (Johnson 1-5, McDaniels 0-2, Thornburg 0-2), B-U 6-11 (McKinley Gaudet 4-6, McClung 2-5). Fouled out — none. Rebounds — St. Albans 29 (Legg 9), B-U 26 (Reynolds 6). Assists — St. Albans 7 (McDaniels 3), B-U 14 (Bennett 4). Total fouls — St. Albans 12, B-U 13