Lady Bucs win opening round of sectional tournament, advance to sectional championship game

Shelby McDaniels rises up over a group of Bridgeport defenders to hit a dagger three from the right wing during the first-round of the Section 2, Region I tournament Tuesday night. DALTON WRIGHT /The Record Delta

TENNERTON — Following a very successful 17-5 regular season, the Buckhannon-Upshur High School girls varsity basketball team earned the right to a home-court advantage throughout the sectional tournament. That advantage would not amount to much if the Lady Bucs, and head coach Rob Kittle, could not take care of business, Tuesday night, as they welcomed the Bridgeport Indians (5-12) to town. 

The two teams were almost evenly matched at the end of the first quarter. Bridgeport held a narrow 2-point, 11-9 advantage going into the second quarter. B-U held firm in the opening period, despite a quiet first quarter from senior leader Shelby McDaniels. Versatile freshman small forward Alyssa Abel scored 7 of the 9 total points, to help keep the team within striking distance. 

An intense first quarter was followed up by a wild, back and forth second quarter. The two teams played to an 11-11 draw in the second period. The half ended with Bridgeport heading into the locker-room with a narrow 2-point, 22-20 lead. With the Indians’ defense running extra defenders at Abel every time she got a touch in the paint, Kendal Currence was free to get to work. The junior forward scored 7 of the Lady Bucs 11 total points in the second quarter. 

After a 2-point first half, McDaniels got going mid-way through the third quarter when she hit a deep pull-up three to put the Lady Bucs up 33-31. Bridgeport responded with a three-point jumper of their own on the last possession of the third period to take a 1-point, 34-33 lead heading into the fourth and final quarter.

With their season on the line, the Lady Bucs put their head down and got to work. They wasted no time seizing control of the game in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run. The Indians were unable to seal the deal following a string of baskets from Abel and another three from McDaniels. As the Lady Bucs survive and advance to the sectional championship game, they will be pitted against the University Hawks this Friday night, February 25. Tip-off for the high-stakes game is slated for 7 p.m. 

As a team, the Lady Bucs did most of their damage on offense from inside the three-point at, hitting 19 2-point field goals compared to only 2 made 3-point field goals. The Lady Bucs shot 9-15 (60%) from the free throw line.

Abel led the team offensively, stepping up with the season on the line by scoring 20 points, pulling down 10 rebounds, dishing out 5 assists and coming away with 3 steals. The freshman small forward was unstoppable whenever she caught the ball in the post, either creating a shot for herself or setting an open teammate up for an easy bucket.

The main beneficiary of Abel’s post-playmaking abilities ended up being Currence. The junior scored 18 points, pulled down 9 rebounds, and came up with 1 block. Abel and Currence provided a potent “1-2 punch” on offense that the Indians couldn’t seem to find an answer for. 

Despite a quite first half, McDaniels still came through for her team when it matters the most. The senior guard finished with 13 points, 7 assists, 7 rebounds and 5 steals. McDaniels hit two deep threes in the second half, each coming at pivotal moments in the game. Her clutch shot-making abilities helped the Lady Bucs fend off the Indians desperate last second push. 

Sophomore forward Gabby Parke was the only other Lady Buc to register a bucket, finishing the game with 2 points. While, Parke is usually more of scoring threat, she focused on getting her teammates involved and checking her match-up contained defensively. In addition to her scoring contribution, Parke ended the game with 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals, fleshing out a well-rounded statline in the win over the Indians. 

When asked how big of a factor playing in front of a packed home crowd, Kittle stated, “Playing in front of the home crowd was great. We need all the support we can get Friday night as well.”

It seems that focusing on the inside game and keying in on their advantage in the post was a major part of Kittle’s game plan, he explained, “Going into the game we were looking to get the ball inside. Early on, we strayed from the game plan, shooting too many shots from the perimeter and not enough in the paint. Despite this, we found a way to win we played well defensively but settling for too many jump shots allowed this game to be much closer than I would ideally want. When we finally got the ball to the high post we were able to find success and score easy buckets inside the paint.”

When asked about some of the aspects of their game he wanted his team to clean up or improve on as they advance to the sectional championship game, Kittle stated his belief that, in order to beat University, they would have to play as mistake-free as possible, saying, “We need to play as a team in order for us to be sectional champions and come away with a win against a very talented University team.”

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