Twenty-three games later, Greenbrier East has finally reached the contest it’s had circled on its calendar for a full year.
Following an undefeated 2013 season, the Lady Spartans were stunned by Capital in the Class AAA Region 3 co-final. After 24 wins, the first loss of the year, one to a team with a sub-.500 record, kept East out of the state tournament and left a taste in its mouth that it hasn’t been able to eliminate.
On Tuesday night, the Lady Spartans will finally get the opportunity to put that memory to rest.
East (22-1) is back in the Region 3 co-final after a 71-42 win over rival Woodrow Wilson Friday night at Spartan Gym in the Region 3, Section 2 championship. This time the Lady Spartans will host George Washington (12-10), which fell to South Charleston in the Region 3, Section 1 final Friday. The winner will earn a spot in the eight-team state tournament in Charleston.
“We’re right back where we were before, playing in the regional,” said GEHS head coach Jim Justice. “We’re playing George Washington, and they’re a good team. We’ll have to play well. But we don’t want an instant replay of last year, so I’m sure we’ll be ready.
“We went asleep at the switch. We will not do that this year. But we’re playing a better team this time.”
The season isn’t over for the Lady Eagles, either. First-year head coach James Lewis will take his team to South Charleston Tuesday in the other regional co-final. That winner will also earn a berth in Class AAA’s bracket of the final eight.
On Friday, Woodrow (7-12) simply had no answer for East’s junior center, Sydney Nunley, who establish herself in the post to the tune of 30 points and 18 rebounds in only 22 minutes. The Lady Spartan guards continually fed the post, for easy baskets, and when Nunley left the floor for good at the end of the third quarter, she had scored three more points than the entire Woodrow team.
“Sydney has come a long way,” said Justice. “In our scrimmage in Blacksburg, she couldn’t have scored in warmups. But our assistant coaches, Marion Gordon and Tina Dunbar, work with her every day. She’s really improved.”
Lewis was certainly impressed with what he saw.
“We can’t simulate that,” said the Lady Eagle coach. “But we can change our principles and the way we play. We’re just going to play our principles and live with the results.”
That wasn’t the only problem for the Lady Eagles. Nunley’s presence in the post also created some room on the perimeter for the Spartan guards. Senior Chole Honaker took full advantage, knocking down three 3-pointers to finish with 11 points and six rebounds.
“Her shot has been waning a little bit, but she got it back,” said Justice. “That’s really big for us.”
Senior guard Chaunte McDowell, whom Justice believes is a state player of the year candidate, didn’t put up her typical numbers in the scoring column, ending the night with 13, but she did her part in the offense, continually making great entry passes to lead to layups. McDowell finished the game with a game-high eight assists.
“We got a lot of hustle out of a lot of kids,” said Justice. “I was really proud of Chaunte, and Liz Romeo coming back for us is good. I just love (sophomore guard) Lexi Tincher. She’s always smiling. Taylor Hill and Ellen Henthorn have played well for us all year long.
“I’m really pleased with where we are. They’ve come together and bonded the way they ought to.”
Woodrow, which trailed 11-2 early after a 9-0 Spartan run, showed heart and hustle from start to finish, including a 9-4 run at the end of the first half on three straight 3-pointers that helped cut the lead and give the Lady Eagles some momentum heading to the locker room.
But the Spartans got 13 points from Nunley in the third quarter, helping to outpace the visitors 23-5 in that frame and put the game on ice.
Aaliyah Williams was the only Woodrow player in double figures, scoring 11 points on the strength of a pair of 3-pointers. Rebekah Cook scored nine, and Brooke Pudder, Bre’ana Staunton and Kaliyah Creasey had six each. Pudder also grabbed six rebounds for the Lady Eagles, who lost the battle on the boards 54-32.
“Our kids don’t always play well, but they always play hard,” said Lewis of his young team, which doesn’t have a single senior on the roster. “Coming into this environment against the team they faced, I’m nothing but happy. This will do a lot for their future.”
The immediate future is South Charleston, which beat Woodrow 52-34 in an MSAC game on Jan. 14.
“They’re fast as can be,” said Lewis. “We played them hard. But they’re very good, and they put a lot of pressure on you. That’s something we have trouble with.
“It’s another big challenge going to their place, but these are two more games that we didn’t get to play last year. So it’s nothing but a good opportunity for our kids.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.
Woodrow Wilson (7-12)
Ashlee Lane 0-0 2-3 2, Rebakah Cook 4-11 0-0 9, Paige Lewis 1-8 0-0 2, Courtney Maxwell 0-4 0-0 0, Aaliyah Williams 3-18 3-4 11, Bre’ana Staunton 2-3 2-2 6, Kaliyah Creasey 2-7 0-1 6, Brooke Pudder 3-7 0-0 6. Totals 15-58 7-10 42.
Greenbrier East (22-1)
Chloe Honaker 4-7 0-0 11, Katie Wilmer 0-1 0-0 0, Hannah Walsh 1-3 1-2 3, Kristen Talbott 1-2 0-0 2, Taylor Hill 1-5 0-0 2, Chelsie Baker 0-1 0-0 0, Kat Walton 0-2 0-0 0, Chaunte McDowell 4-10 4-4 13, Lexi Tincher 1-5 0-0 2, Ellen Henthorn 0-0 0-0 0, Kaitlyn Mize 1-1 0-0 2, Sydney Nunley 13-21 4-7 30, Piper Nunley 1-3 0-0 2, Elizabeth Romeo 1-5 0-0 2, Emily Vance 1-1 0-0 2, Totals 29-67 9-13 71
WW 8 14 5 15 — 42
GE 23 14 23 11 — 71
3-pointers — WW: 5 (Cook, Williams 2, Creasey 2); GE: 4 (Honaker 3, McDowell). Fouled out — none