By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
When Nicholas County got beat 48-41 at Scott late in the season, coach Tom McGirl didn’t get miffed at his team.
He didn’t put it down as “one of those games.”
Instead, McGirl and the Grizzlies used the loss to become a better team.
“That loss was huge,” he said. “We had to refocus. The girls had to decide if they wanted to be hunted, or the hunter.”
Obviously, they made the right decision.
Nicholas (20-3) will make its first state tournament appearance since 2001 Thursday when it meets North Marion at 9:30 a.m. in a Class AA opening-round game at the Charleston Civic Center.
The Lady Grizzlies followed the Scott loss by beating Poca (66-30) and AA power Clay County (58-47) in the sectionals. Then, they returned the favor to Scott, winning 39-29 in the Region 4 co-final in Summersville.
“The best thing that happened to us this season was losing at Scott,” McGirl said. “We got bullied. They shoved us around. We weren’t up to the challenge that night.”
That certainly changed.
“The kids were ready next time. They hit big shots and played great defense,” McGirl said. “Shealyn (Shafer) refused to be denied.”
Shafer, a 6-foot senior center, scored 16 points and was a force on the boards against the Skyhawks.
A second-team all-stater last year when Nicholas played in the Class AAA ranks, Shafer is averaging 19.8 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2.9 steals, 2.4 assists and 79 deflections.
“Shealyn doesn’t look at anybody in awe,” McGirl said. “She can score inside or outside, and has the best 3-point percentage on the team.
“She’s the hardest worker I’ve ever coached. As good a player as she is, she’s an even better person. I feel blessed to have coached her.”
But it wasn’t just Shafer who came up big against Scott. Junior backup guard Makayla Willis sank several key baskets while the Skyhawks were focusing on Shafer.
“Makayla was the MVP of the regional,” McGirl said. “She hit three 3s that basically turned the game.”
Willis averages just four points a game, but has really come alive in the tournaments.
Besides Shafer, the other starters are point guard Mykenzie Martin, a sophomore averaging 10.1 points, 3 assists and 38 3s; 6-foot senior forward Nicole Hamilton, who contributes 6.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and has made 67 deflections; and senior guard Lauren Young, a three-year starter who tallies 7.8 points and 5.5 assists per game and has a 3-1 assist-turnover ratio.
Like Willis, Lindsay Hogan’s scoring average — 2 ppg — is deceiving. A streak shooter, she’s capable of lighting up the scoreboard if she’s on.
McGirl knew he had a shot at states after an early home win against Robert C. Byrd, which was ranked No. 3 in the preseason.
“We beat them by 24, and it was actually not that close,” he said. “We knew we had the nucleus to have a good season, and the kids have stayed healthy and done a good job.
“It all starts with Shealyn, but as the season went along the supporting cast has developed into a nice team.”
North Marion, 18-4 after postseason wins over Oak Glen (83-32), Fairmont Senior (51-50) and Braxton County (65-59), is making its fourth trip to states in the past five years.
Winners of 13 consecutive games, the Huskies have solid junior posts in Anna Moscufo (14.2 ppg) and Noca Singleton (6.4) and smooth-shooting guards in senior Audia Bartlett (11.5), who is back from ACL surgery, and freshman Megan Hallar (12.3).
Hallar scored 27 points in the win over Fairmont Senior and poured in 18 against Braxton. Moscufo added 13 points against Braxton, mostly in the second half.
“It’s an interesting matchup. They’re a lot like us,” McGirl said. “They’ve got talented post players and two guards who can flat-out shoot.
“You never know what can happen when you go to the state tournament. We’re excited for the challenge.”
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