Chapmanville coach Kristinia Gore talks to her team during a timeout in earlier action at Winfield High School (Photo courtesy of CKG Graphics).
Bill Lusk | WVOW Sports
CHAPMANVILLE The past 22 months have been filled with ups and downs for Wyoming East senior Abby Russell.
As a sophomore, Russell earned all-tournament honors after leading Wyoming East to its second state championship in school history and was named to the Class AA first-team a week later. Days after playing in the state championship game, Russell was back on the court preparing for the upcoming AAU season when he tore her ACL in practice putting her junior season in jeopardy.
Russell underwent surgery to repair her ACL during the summer and in September she was dealt another blow as her biggest fan, her father Russell, passed away from COVID on Sept. 3.
Despite the tragedy of losing a parent and the uncertainty of not knowing whether she would be cleared to play again, Russell suffered another setback when she injured her knee in practice before last week’s Class AA Region 3 championship game.
Through all the adversity and all the emotions, Russell came through in the clutch knocking six 3-points on her way to a game-high 20 points as top-ranked Wyoming East went on a 15-4 run in the final 4:50 to beat eighth-ranked Chapmanville, 54-47, in the Class AA Region 3 championship at the Danny Godby Gymnasium on Feb. 28.
Russell hit four 3’s in the third quarter, banking her first one off the glass and then hitting every part of the rim on two more to help the Lady Warriors reached the state tournament for the third consecutive season.
Chapmanville coach Kristina Gore, who shared a heartwarming moment with Russell after the game ending in smiles and hugs, said Russell had overcome so much in almost two years and was happy for the senior and playfully joked that her shot hit everything on the rim before falling through the net.
“Seems like the ball was really bouncing there way tonight especially the rolls,” Gore said. “Was all three of those Russell that hit the rim, hit the backboard? I mean it hit every piece of equipment up there and went down.”
“That kid has persevered through so much in life with her ACL injury, losing her dad to COVID,” Gore said. “I am just so happy for her. I hate that she done that against us, and I wish it could have been someone else, but I believe that good things happen to good people and she is one of those good people.”
On a night, where leading scorer Cadence Blackburn was 2 of 16 from the floor and 1 of 12 from 3 finishing with seven points, it was Russell, who had made just 8 of 48 3-point attempts on the year, finished 6 of 9 from beyond the arc and was 7 of 13 from the field providing the Lady Warriors with a much-needed offensive spark.
“Did she call bank? She has a nice soft touch, but I am just joking because the first one was a bank,” Wyoming East coach Angie Boninsenga said of Russell’s first 3 in the third quarter. “She came up and hit crucial shots and Blackburn was off with her shooting tonight and we needed somebody to step up. Abby did a good job, Blackburn picked up her defense and overall, I was really pleased with our defensive effort tonight.”
Wyoming East led 38-37 after three quarters, but Haley Fleming’s runner in the lane gave Chapmanville a 39-38 with 7:40 remaining. Fleming’s basket was the start of a Lady Tigers 6-1 run that was capped off by a pair of Alaira Evans free throws to give Chapmanville a 43-39 lead with 5:15 to play.
Colleen Lookabill knocked down a pair of free throws to cut the deficit two, 43-41, with 4:50 to play. Following a Chapmanville miss on its next offensive possession, Wyoming East secured the rebound and raced up court before Blackburn’s 3 was off the mark and tracked down by Abi Baker in the right corner.
Baker dribbled in the lane and lofted a pass that went off the fingertips of Fleming and into the hands of Blackburn, who knocked down her only 3-point basket to give Wyoming East a 44-43 lead with 4:07 to play.
Maddie Clark converted a layup off a steal to give the Lady Warriors a three-point advantage, 46-43, with 3:59 to play before Chapmanville closed the gap to within one, 46-45, following a pair of Jaycee Blair free throws.
Clark once again scored on a layup to put the Lady Warriors up 48-45 with 3:15 to play before Evans scored off a missed Blair 3 to bring the Lady Tigers back within one, 48-47, with 2:38 remaining.
Chapmanville would not score in the final 2:38 as Wyoming East was able to ice the game from the free throw line knocking down six free throws to secure the victory.
Chapmanville turned the ball over 23 times, 14 of which resulting in steals by Wyoming East.
Baker and Lookabill had four steals each, Clark three, Blackburn two and Kayley Bane one for the Lady Warriors.
“We picked up really good (on defense), and Abi Baker and Maddie Clark started getting some steals and even (Kayley) Bane and (Colleen) Lookabill got some steals for us,” Boninsenga said. “We just never gave up; we had an attitude that we were going to down like a warrior would and we were fortunate that we made our foul shots tonight because that was key down the stretch.”
Wyoming East held their own on the boards against a bigger Chapmanville squad as both teams had 26 rebounds each, but the Lady Warriors held a 14-4 advantage on the offensive glass.
“We had a hard time rotating down and getting those weak side rebounds that is where they really hurt us and I think they had nine second chance points in the first half,” Gore said. “When they got inside and you didn’t have the long rebounds, I think we did a pretty good job of it but that is something that we didn’t adjust to very well.”
Wyoming East, which never trailed in a first quarter that featured four ties, closed the first quarter on a 7-2 run breaking a 9-all tie to take a 16-11 lead after one quarter of play.
Trailing 19-13 following Blackburn basket in the second quarter, Chapmanville started to find a rhythm offensively and took its first lead, 22-21, on Fleming’s basket with 5:04 to play in the first half. The Lady Tigers would eventually close the quarter on a 14-5 run and led 27-24 at halftime.
Chapmanville’s lead reached five points, the biggest of the night for the Lady Tigers, following a Brooke Christian 3 with 4:58 to play in the third quarter.
Three 3-pointers from Russell and a pair of Blackburn free throws capped an 11-2 Wyoming East run giving the Lady Warriors a 38-34 lead with 1:13 to play before Christian hit her second 3 of the quarter to bring Chapmanville within one, 38-37, after three quarters of play.
Evans led Chapmanville with 19 points. Christian had nine points, Fleming seven points and five assists and Jaiden Mahon finished with five points and a game-high 10 rebounds for the Lady Tigers.
Wyoming East, along with third-ranked Summers County, will represent Region 3 in the Class AA state tournament. The Lady Bobcats defeated second-ranked Mingo Central 29-27.
Region 3 was one of two regions to have four schools ranked in the final Associated Press girls basketball poll and was the only region to have four schools in the preseason poll.
“It is really a shame that we lost two of the teams in our region because we had a strong region and we had a strong region last year,” Boninsenga said. “We feel blessed again to be representing our region and I am sure (Summers County coach) Chad (Meador) feels the same way that we came away with wins tonight.”
“Mingo Central has got a great, Chapmanville has got a great team,” Boninsenga said. “Most of the year we had four teams in the top 10 of the AP polls and we knew that us and Region 1 had four too that was there.”
Gore echoed Boninsenga’s comments and felt the regional game had more of a state championship feel.
“I really feel like this was the state championship game tonight,” Gore said. “This is who we had to go through, and I believe we gave them everything they wanted and more. Hats off to them, they are a good team, but we are good team and with a little more composure and experience I think the game would have been a little bit different.”
“It is unfortunate that somebody has to lose especially with our region being as loaded as it is,” Gore said. “I felt like if we had won this game that we had a chance to be a two or three seed in the state tournament, but instead we are on the outside looking in having to set and watch.”
Wyoming East (18-4) will be seeded second in the Class AA state tournament and will open play Wednesday afternoon at 1 p.m. against seventh-seeded Ravenswood.
The Lady Warriors have advanced to the state championship in the last two state tournaments, finishing runner-up last season and claiming the Class AA state championship in 2021.
Wyoming East, a consolidation of Mullens and Pineville High School, which first opened in the 1998-99 school year, will be making its 15th appearance in the state tournament and has won two state championships (2016 and 2021). The Lady Warriors were runners-up three times and have advanced to the semifinals seven times in its 25 years of existence.
Wyoming East, the preseason number one in Class AA, along with Summers County are the favorites entering the state tournament.
“We are thankful that we got back there, so we are not looking past Ravenswood,” Boninsenga said. “We know they will be a challenge for us, we are taking one game at a time and we are blessed that we are there again.”
For Chapmanville, it was the third straight season ending loss in the regional loss, all three coming at the hands of Wyoming East, this loss however was much closer than the other two.
In 2021, which was Gore’s first season as the Lady Tigers coach, Wyoming East defeated Chapmanville 82-17. Last season, the Lady Warriors defeated the Lady Tigers 84-50.
“The first year we went down there, and I think we got beat by 50 or 60 maybe and the second year we went down there we got beat by 30,” Gore said. “This year we were able to get them on our home floor, which I felt like that was our best chance to win a title is you got to beat them here.”
The 2022-23 season was a sign of how far the Lady Tigers have come since Gore took over the program in the shortened 2021 season, in which the Lady Tigers won just three games and followed that up with 11 wins the following season.
Playing a tough schedule, the Lady Tigers finished the year with a record of 16-9 and a tie for second place in the Cardinal Conference. Six of the seven teams to defeat the Lady Tigers played in the regional finals of their respective classes, four of those six qualified for the state tournament and five of those teams were ranked in the final AP girls basketball poll.
“I believe we have the toughest schedule in double-A including Wyoming East’s schedule,” Gore said. “When I look at our losses this year, I am pretty sure that there might be one team that we lost to that won’t be in Charleston and that is Greenbrier East.”
“I am proud of the schedule that we play and there are some in there that we lost that we shouldn’t have, but it helped us try to prepare for this moment and I wouldn’t change a thing,” Gore said.
With no seniors on its roster and the potential to return a full squad next season, the sky is the limit for Chapmanville, who will be in a very good position to end its state tournament drought that has now reached 12 years.
“I am really excited for the future, the future is bright in Chapmanville. We got a lot of teams in double-A that are losing senior leadership, we’re not,” Gore said. “We hope we can turn the tables next year and be there in person. With this experience we had tonight, I hope we learn and grow from it.”
Wyoming East 54, Chapmanville 47
Wyoming East (18-4)
Russell 7-13 0-0 20, Blackburn 2-16 2-4 7, Lookabill 1-5 5-8 7, Clark 4-11 4-4 12, Baker 1-1 1-1 3, Bane 2-10 1-2 5. Totals: 17-56 13-19 54.
Fleming 2-4 3-4 7, Mahon 1-5 3-4 5, Thompson 2-2 0-0 4, Christian 3-7 0-0 9, Blair 0-2 3-4 3, Evans 8-14 3-4 19. Totals: 16-34 12-16 47.
Wyoming East 16 8 14 16- 54
Chapmanville 11 16 10 10- 47
3-point field goals_Wyoming East 7-28 (Russell 6-9, Blackburn 1-12, Lookabill 0-2, Clark 0-2, Bayne 0-3), Chapmanville 3-14 (Fleming 0-1, Mahon 0-1, Christian 3-9, Blair 0-1, Evans 0-2). Fouled out_Thompson. Rebounds_Wyoming East 26 (Lookabill 6, Clark 6), Chapmanville 26 (Mahon 10). Assists_Wyoming East 9 (Blackburn 3, Clark 3), Chapmanville 8 (Fleming 5). Total fouls_Wyoming East 15, Chapmanville 18. Technicals_None.