Clear Fork — Westside didn’t need any more motivation Thursday night.
Win and the Lady Renegades would punch their ticket to Charleston. Lose and they’d end their season with a loss to Bluefield for the third straight season.
Fortunately for the Clear Fork crazies, third time’s the charm.
Behind the on-ball defense and sharpshooting of senior Riana Kenneda, Westside earned its first state tournament berth since winning the Class AA championship in 2014, beating Bluefield 54-40 in a Class AA Region 3 co-final in Clear Fork.
”We knew going into the sectional championship last week that it would be important for us to play here,” Westside head coach Darren Thomas said. “Bluefield is a great team and the last two years we’ve had trouble shooting over there. But it’s just great now. These girls have battled all year long. It’s a good experience for them and we really grew up this year.”
Battling was probably the best way to describe the first half.
The physicality throughout the first and second quarters led to minimal scoring, with Bluefield staking a 7-4 after the first. Part of the sluggish start on offense was the size and length of Bluefield’s post players, but Kenneda matched that with her defense on Bluefield all-stater Jaisah Smith, denying Smith the ability to drive the lane.
”We didn’t want Jaisah to get loose,” Thomas said. “We wanted to stay on her and anytime somebody came to pick, we wanted help to come on the side too. Jaisah didn’t really drive because Riana shuffled her feet and that was our game plan. We even though about playing a junk defense and for a few plays we ran a diamond and one because we didn’t want Jaisah to get loose on us. All week long we talked to Riana and Makayla (Morgan) to help each other at the top and we were able to stop her penetration.”
Eventually when Kenneda found a groove on the other end, Westside found a rhythm.
A 3-pointer from the senior and later a pull up jumper from Shyann Jenkins gave Westside a 12-11 lead. Bluefield responded by taking the lead but a layup from Hannah Toler followed by a layup and 3 from Kenneda made it 19-13 in favor of Westside.
Toler added to the lead with two more free throws, but a 4-0 Bluefield run to end the half closed the deficit to four.
”They’re a great shooting team and very well coached and disciplined,” Bluefield head coach Ernie Gilliard said. “They stayed after us and early on we had a lead and there were about three possessions where they forced us to play out of character and we rushed. We didn’t get the ball to out best ball handlers. They were able to chip away and find a rhythm.”
Back-to-back layups from Smith to open the half knotted the game at 21, but a run highlighted by a jumper from Morgan and a 3 from Kenneda pushed Westside’s lead to eight. Bluefield cut it back to four, but five straight from Kenneda gave Westside a cushion.
”I just felt comfortable, in a groove,” Kenneda said. “My teammates found me and I couldn’t have done that without them.”
Bluefield clawed back, cutting the deficit to five with 4:23 left, but two more free throws from Toler pushed the lead to seven and the Lady Beavers couldn’t recover.
“It’s great,” Thomas said on the program’s first trip to Charleston since 2014. “After we won our two championships (Wyoming) East went on their run and they just had really good teams. Each year our girls got a little better though. Last year they beat us in the sectional, but we played with them. This year we grew up though. We wanted to get to Charleston and it was time for us to make it back down and like I said I couldn’t be more proud of a bunch of girls than I am of this bunch.”
Westside enters the state tournament as the No. 7 seed and will play No. 2 Winfield Wednesday at 1 p.m.
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Summer Brown 6, Beyonka Lee 5, Jumaria Jones 2, Jaisah Smith 22, Jaylese Simms 3, Erica Poe 2
Hannah Toler 12, Riana Kenneda 22, Makayla Morgan 14, Lauren Thomas 4, Shyann Jenkins 2
B: 7 10 13 10 — 40
W: 4 17 15 18 — 54
3-point goals — B: None; W: 5 (Kenneda 5). Fouled Out — None.