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Blue Eagles Are Flying South To Charleston for State Basketball Tournament After Defeating Madonna Class A Regional Co-Final

Magnolia finishes on 9-0 run

Photo by Cody Tomer Magnolia’s Sierra Walker cuts down the net following a 41-33 victory over Madonna in the West Virginia Class A Region One co-final on Thursday.

NEW MARTINSVILLE — There is no substitute for experience.

With 3:32 to play in Thursday’s West Virginia Class A Region One co-final and the Blue Eagles trailing by one in front of a roaring crowd, they stayed cool, calm and collected.

Magnolia, then, went on a 9-0 run to end the game to secure a 41-33 victory over Madonna inside Magnolia’s gymnasium and a second straight trip to the state tournament.

“We’ve been in this regional final before,” Magnolia coach Meredith Pilant said. “Most of these girls have played in it and have been successful. We have some big time players who know how to play in big games and know how to play when it comes down to the wire and I think it showed in the last couple of minutes. They stayed calm when they could have fallen apart.

“We talked about staying focused and sticking to the game plan. I can’t give enough credit to my assistant Mark Winters. He drew up a heckuva game plan and they followed it and executed it. That made a huge difference (Thursday).”

Although Mady Winters is only a sophomore, she was not deterred by the pressure or packed house in New Martinsville. Instead, she paced the Blue Eagles (17-8) with a double-double of 20 points and 13 rebounds.

Kyndra Pilant followed with 11 points and 14 boards to also record a double-double.

“Last year’s experience helped a lot knowing that we had to calm down and slow down the pace instead of trying to run and gun,” Mady Winters said. “It was a crazy environment but everyone stepped up.”

In their last meeting, the Blue Dons had no trouble putting away the Blue Eagles, winning by a 69-38 count but Madonna coach Rodney Boniti knew it would be much closer this time around.

“We knew coming in it wasn’t going to be the same game,” Boniti said. “We knew it was going to be a slugfest.

“We knew their personnel extremely well and thought we were very well prepared for them. We just couldn’t buy a bucket. It’s very frustrating but my hat’s off to them. I want to wish Coach Pilant and Coach Winters the best of luck and hope they represent Region One well.”

The Blue Dons (17-7) trailed 26-21 entering the fourth but opened the quarter on a 6-2 run to cut the deficit to one-point.

Following a pair of easy buckets by Madonna’s Gabriella Staffileno and Kennedy Martin and a basket by Andrea Alimario, the Dons grabbed a 33-32 edge with 3:32 left to play.

At this point, the Eagles’ experience began to show. Pilant started the turn in momentum with a bucket to give her team the upper hand and Lara Ann Smith followed with her first points of the game to extend the lead.

In the final minute of play, Winters collected four offensive rebounds and a pair of free-throws to help seal the victory and send the Eagles to Charleston.

“I just tried to box out and tried not to allow them to get any second chance points,” Mady Winters said.

Only nine combined points were scored in the third quarter as Magnolia optioned to hold the ball, chewing away much of the clock.

“We like to hold the ball a little bit once and a while to make them come out and cover our guards,” Coach Pilant said. “That leaves Mady and Kyndra one-on-one inside and it’s hard to guard them one-on-one inside on most nights.”

Madonna held the advantage early with a 10-5 lead after one and kept the Magnolia guards quiet.

Sierra Walker was the only Magnolia player other than Winters and Pilant to record points in the first three quarters as she drained a pair of big 3-pointers, including one with 18 seconds left in the half to give the Eagles a 20-18 lead at the break.

“She has been a big spark for us off the bench,” Coach Pilant said of Walker. “She is great in that role and to come in and hit those shots was a big momentum swinger and got us rolling on offense.”

Madonna did all of its damage from the floor, going 0-for-4 from the free-throw line, while Magnolia was good for 11 of its 17 free throws.

The win earned the Blue Eagles the No. 3 seed in the state tournament where they will take on No. 6 seed Trinity at 9:30 a.m. next Thursday.

“This has been our goal all year,” Coach Pilant said. “They got a little taste of it last year and they worked all summer. This is a special group and we’re excited to get back to Charleston.”

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