Nicholas outlasts Indians, 58-56
Somewhere along the line — perhaps in blowing an early 20-4 lead or turning the ball over a confounding 20 times — Nicholas County decided enough was enough.
Despite that scuffling, all the Grizzlies needed to survive and advance Wednesday night was one perfectly executed play. And that's what they got.
Eric Peyatt took a pass from Cody McClung and hit a layup with 6.8 seconds left to give Nicholas a 58-56 victory at Sissonville in the Class AA Region 4 Section 1 semifinals.
Jared Tharp tallied 16 points for the Grizzlies (14-9), who move into Friday's sectional finals at No. 2 Poca and automatically qualify for the AA regionals next week.
Youthful Sissonville (9-14) had one last chance to win, but Blake Newhouse's 3-pointer was off line just ahead of the buzzer.
"Our school has not been to the state tournament since 1964,'' said Nicholas fourth-year coach Brian Phipps, "but now we have that opportunity to get back. Our kids didn't really understand that we get to play two more now. I had to explain it to them.
"No matter what happens Friday against a great Poca team, we get to play in the regional, so we're pretty excited about that.''
The Grizzlies were in control early, storming out to a 20-4 lead early in the second quarter as Sissonville missed its first 11 shots and had eight turnovers. But like the large piles of snow around the Kanawha Valley slowly melting away, the Indians got back in it.
Sissonville ripped off 20 straight points between the third and fourth quarters to go in front 48-45 on a 3 by Seth Bowlin with 6:06 to play. Neither side led by more than four and the Indians forged one final tie at 56 on a Duncan McClung free throw with 3:06 left.
Several possessions followed, replete with missed shots and turnovers on both sides. When Tharp couldn't connect from the left corner with a minute to go, Sissonville got the rebound, called time and tried to whittle down the clock.
Bowlin was fouled 35 feet from the basket at the 18-second mark, but missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Nicholas rebounded and took a timeout in front of its own bench.
Then it was time for the Grizzlies to erase all of those bad vibes from before by pulling off one perfect play.
With 12 seconds left, Cody McClung inbounded to Tharp, who dribbled toward the top of the key, stopped and floated a pass back to McClung in the right corner. McClung immediately dumped the ball to Peyatt, who was cutting along the baseline. Peyatt raised up and sank the layup for the lead.
McClung, Tharp and Peyatt — who touched the ball on the final play — are the Grizzlies' top three scorers and all are seniors.
"It went exactly as planned,'' Cody McClung said. "I'm honestly surprised how well it turned out. Coach has a lot of trust not only in me, but all of our players. Sissonville never gave up, but we just played the basketball we knew how to play.''
Phipps said his team's approach all season allowed it to shrug off the uneven play, which included nine unforced turnovers for traveling or carrying the ball.
"It's just the way we played all year,'' Phipps said. "What we tried to instill in them is to never panic — never be too high or never be too low emotionally. I think that helped tonight when we got down.
"If you'll notice on the sidelines, I don't get too high or too low, and I want to convey that to them. Level-headedness, that's what I want. And that's what happened there at the end, and I have to give credit to [assistant coach Allen] Stump, who drew up that last play for us.''
McClung added 14 points and seven rebounds for Nicholas, and Jacob Hopkins (11 points) and Peyatt (eight rebounds) also contributed heavily.
For the Indians, who ended the season with six straight losses, freshmen Chance Brown (22 points) and Newhouse (12 points) led the scoring and Duncan McClung grabbed 10 rebounds to pace a 36-34 Sissonville edge on the boards.
Brown and Newhouse, two of four freshmen to play extensively for the Indians this season, combined to knock down 8 of 14 from 3-point range. Nine of Sissonville's 16 field goals were 3s.
"It's been a lot of the same story all year,'' said Indians coach Rich Skeen. "We played like freshmen in the first quarter — we turned the ball over a lot. But we've always fought back. There have only been a couple of games where we had no fight. We always get ourselves in a hole, but I'm proud of them because they didn't quit.
"We had an open look at the end to win it, and you can't ask any more than that. Still, this one kind of stings. It hurts.''
Skeen expects his ninth graders to keep improving and again elevate the program to AA contender status.
"I think these guys will work, I really do,'' he said. "We'll miss our seniors, though — Nathan [Miller], Duncan and Adam [Robinson] really played like seniors tonight. They really accepted our young guys. There could have been some jealousy and all that, but they have been great seniors. They even come off the bench and let the freshmen start.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.