Blue Eagles Are Flying to Charleston
Magnolia earns first state tourney berth since 2007
NEW MARTINSVILLE — There is an old saying that goes “it is hard to beat a team three times.”
For Magnolia, that phrase has a sweet ring to it. But more importantly than that, the Blue Eagles won the one that mattered the most.
After dropping two regular season meetings to Cameron, Magnolia finally solved the Dragons in Wednesday’s W.Va. Class A Region One Co-Final with a 50-47 victory, and in the process, earned a trip to next week’s state tournament in Charleston for the first time since 2007.
“It means the world to us,” Magnolia coach Meredith Pilant said. “We had one senior, who moved from a forward to a point guard. Kennedy Parsons, a junior, hadn’t played ball since eighth grade and the rest of us are freshmen and sophomores.
“Coach (Mark) Winters and myself, we saw a lot of potential and we just had to get them to buy in. And as the wins started to come, they started to buy in. We are young, we are excited and nobody really saw us. This is great.”
That one senior is Logan Riggs and she picked the perfect time to come up with her biggest shot of the year. With the score tied at 37-37, Riggs hit nothing but net on a 3-pointer to give Magnolia a lead with four minutes to go and Magnolia never trailed again.
Cameron closed to within one on a Courtney Walker basket, but on the next trip up the floor for the Blue Eagles, Parsons got behind the defense and answered with an easy layup.
Riggs extended the lead to 44-39 with a basket, but Cameron again got it back to one with two free throws from Kelsie Meintel and a layup from Walker off a Magnolia turnover with two minutes to go.
Mady Winters extended the Blue Eagles lead and Jordyn Hughes scored on the other end to keep pace for Cameron with 1:06 on the clock.
Lenieca Grimm’s only points of the night were big ones, and her jumper pushed the lead back to three.
On the other end, Hughes went for the tie, but her 3-pointer was off the mark. Walker had another chance to tie it with a 3-pointer, but was too long. Cameron gathered the missed shot, but turned the ball over.
Riggs was fouled with 8.9 seconds left and made both her free throws to put Magnolia ahead two scores at 50-45.
After a Meintel basket, Riggs was fouled again. She missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Meintel gathered the rebound, but her full-court heave was well short as the Magnolia student section poured onto the court to celebrate.
“A lot of people underestimated us in the beginning and Cameron had already beat us twice,” Riggs said. “This is best feeling I’ve ever had. It has been years for a team to represent Magnolia at the state tournament and this is unbelievable.
“I felt confident in the 3. I missed one early in the night but I knew I had to take this. I was wide open, drained it and then the game went.”
Was she nervous for those free throws, though?
“I knew there were only so many seconds left and I knew I had to make them,” Riggs said. “The third one was a little bit off, but hey, who cares? We won.”
Pilant was also glowing about her senior leader.
“In the postseason, she has stepped her game up to a whole new level,” Pilant said. “That has been the difference.”
Kyndra Pilant had another solid game for the Blue Eagles, scoring a game-high 16 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Parsons netted 13 and Riggs scored 10. Winters added 10 rebounds.
In the other locker room, there was plenty of heartbreak and tears. Cameron had the best season in school history and many had it pegged for its first state tournament appearance.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
“The ball didn’t bounce our way and we missed some easy shots, didn’t convert at the free-throw line at times and our defense broke down at times,” Cameron coach Roger Cain said. “When you have those little things here and there in a championship game, those things can come back and really bit us.
“We tried to talk about the positive things. We had an OVAC championship, a West Virginia HIT championship. But that elusive trip to Charleston is still there. We had high hopes and thought we had the team to get to Charleston.
“When I took the program over six years ago, my goal was to make a difference. But I will give the credit to these seniors (Meintel, Walker, Peri Gray, Autumn Gossett). They came in four years ago and we weren’t at the top of the mountain. They have really made a huge dent and impression on this program and it is going to be tough to lose them.”
Walker was the lone Dragon in double figures with 16.
Magnolia earned the No. 6 seed and will take on No. 3 Tucker County at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at the Charleston Civic Center.