NEW MARTINSVILLE - A lot has happened since the Magnolia girls' basketball team last took the court Dec. 19 at River. Not the least of which was the sudden resignation of former Coach Dave Chapman last week.
So faulting the Blue Eagles for not having their heads in the game against visiting arch-rival Tyler Consolidated on Thursday night might not have been an easy thing to do.
However, that was not the case as junior Mallory Chapman, freshman Grace Berisford and the rest of the Magnolia girls came with all the fight and desire any coach could possibly ask of a team, even interim coach Mark Blair.
Chapman exploded for a career-high 30 points, while yanking down 11 rebounds, and Berisford added 16, including a free throw with 22 seconds to play to make it a three-point game as the Blue Eagles and Silver Knights went toe-to-toe for four quarters before Magnolia escaped with a hard-fought 70-67 verdict against Tyler Consolidated in front of a large crowd at Magnolia High School.
The victory leaves both squads sitting at 4-4 on the season, but definitely left one coach feeling a lot better than the other.
Knights coach Matt Kinnard watched his team not only battle the spirited efforts of the Blue Eagles, but also foul trouble and a tough night at the charity stripe.
Kinnard watched his daughter, standout junior Sophia, pick up her second foul with 2:09 showing in the first, her third late in the third and her fourth with 5:13 to play. Meanwhile, Megan Carpenter had three fouls in the first half before fouling out in the fourth while two other starters also finished with four. Tyler also hit just 13 of 26 from the line.
"I don't believe that referees win or lose games for teams, but this was a totally different called game then we have seen all season long," Matt Kinnard said. "I also don't think you can blame it on missing a last shot, it is everything that happens prior to that that makes the difference."
The Silver Knights did get that last shot, an opportunity to knot the count in the final seconds when junior Sydney Reed got a good look at a 3-pointer, but had it bounce high off the rim with Chapman corralling the rebound just before the horn sounded.
Chapman wasted very little time getting things rolling, scoring 11 in the opening quarter as Magnolia took a 21-20 edge. The second quarter was just as tight with Tyler Consolidated holding a late 38-36 advantage before Berisford buried a 3-pointer just inside the half-court stripe at the buzzer to send the hosts to the locker room with a one-point lead.
"That was a big shot by Grace (Berisford) right before the half," Blair said. "She had a few of them during the game."
The two teams stayed neck-and-neck for most of the third before the Eagles equaled the biggest margin of the game of four points, 53-49, with 3:04 showing in the third. However, Magnolia turned the ball over on its next five possessions, thanks in large part to the Knights' pressure, and Tyler used an 8-0 burst to flip things and take a four-point lead of its own at 57-53.
Not to be outdone, Blair's girls knotted the count at 57-57 by getting the final four points of the third and then continued by scoring the initial six of the fourth to cap a 10-0 run and take the game's largest lead at 63-57. Tyler managed to get to within one at 68-67 on a pair of Allison Wable free throws at 38 seconds, but Katie Blatt and Berisford capped the scoring with late free throws.
"It has been a very tough week for these girls, and I have only had them for a couple of days, so for them to come out and perform like this, I am just so proud of them," Blair said. "Now all I can hope is that we will get better and we can continue to do that every day.
"They just never gave up. I think you could tell we were a little out of sync at times, but the girls really responded overall. I wasn't sure what to expect, but they really came to play.
"I cannot say enough about the great job that Mallory Chapman did, I am just so very happy for her right now. This is a big rivalry, and again, the girls just responded big all night."
"Games like this should never come down to a last second shot, but we didn't convert when we had chances," Matt Kinnard added. "Magnolia was ready to play, and we had some struggles.
"We came out and hit some threes early on, but then we missed some shots we shouldn't have as well. Foul troubles hurt and I don't know what happened at the foul line. Mallory Chapman also had a huge game for them and hit shots when they needed her to."
Magnolia held a slim 36-35 edge off the glass while Tyler Consolidated forced 23 turnovers and committed just 14.
Torrye Cline had scored 17 of her team-high 22 in the first half and also had nine rebounds, Reed added 17 in a losing effort while Wable scored 11 and pulled down 12 rebounds and Sophia Kinnard also dropped in 11.
Both teams also finished with 24 field goals in the contest, but it took the Blue Eagles 20 fewer shots to accomplish it, finishing just over 50 percent from the field on 47 tries.