CHARLESTON – For all the hard work and hustle the Lady Mountain Lions showed in their first-round victory over Pocahontas County, it might have been a more lackadaisical moment that helped turn the tide.
Tucker County, seeded higher and owner of two regular season victories over the Lady Warriors, was down six points early in the game when a timeout was called.
“We kind of walked to the bench,” Coach Jim Ambrose said. “I really wasn’t very happy about that. We chatted. You can shoot the ball poorly. You have nights like that. Never do we get out-hustled.”
The team got the message, and turned things around quickly, eventually winning Thursday’s first-round game 51-31. It’s the 10th consecutive trip to the state tournament for the Tucker County girls.
After a tough opening quarter shooting for the team with just two field goals, Madison Mullenax helped get the ball rolling with a 3-pointer just 53 seconds into the third quarter. Steph Betler followed with another bucket right after that, as Tucker County went on a 16-2 run and never looked back.
“It gets us all started and gets me started so I can shoot the rest of the game,” Mullenax said of hitting a big basket early.
The second half was more of the same as Tucker County outscored Pocahontas County 18-3. The Lady Mountain Lions’ depth helped later in the game as well.
“It helps a lot,” Betler said. “When you’re in there you go as hard as you can. Someone can come in for you and you don’t lose anything.”
Tucker County also out-rebounding the Lady Warriors 41-35, including an amazing 21 offensive rebounds. Savannah Ambrose had a team high nine boards plus seven blocked shots in just 20 minutes.
“It’s definitely an advantage being tall,” she said with a smile.
Pocahontas Coach Mike Kane agreed giving away several inches at each position up front make a difference.
“Their height sort of kills us,” Kane said. “We’re pretty small. When you have 6-1 and 5-11 against 5-9, 5-7 it’s sort of hard.”
Pocahontas’ last lead came at 16-15 with 4:38 left in the second quarter, then Nichols hit a free throw to tie the score and Betler drained a 3-pointer to give Tucker the lead for good. The margin was just six at halftime before the decisive third quarter.
Pressure defense from the Lady Mountain Lions made a big difference as well, with Pocahontas turning the ball over 23 times compared to just 12 for Tucker.
“That helped a lot,” Betler said of the easy baskets. “Sometimes I struggle a little bit, but I know if we play defense we’ll be OK.”
Tucker County’s last loss before the state tournament came Feb. 8 at Southern, a 60-30 defeat that was by far the worst of the season. Ambrose pointed to that as a turning point, saying he was speechless after the game and didn’t know how his team would respond.
“How we responded was we haven’t lost since,” he said. “The way we responded to that was just awesome. It really showed this team’s character.”
By Chris Stadelman
For The Parsons Advocate