Shady Spring boys basketball coach Ronnie Olson can finally change his socks with the thrill of victory far outweighing the smell of the feet.
Whether it was Olson’s superstitions or just a team peaking offensively and defensively at the right time, the No. 3 Tigers finished off quite a run through Class AAA Saturday, using a second-half surge to pull past No. 5 Wheeling Central for a 55-43 victory in the state tournament championship game at the Charleston Coliseum.
Shady (15-2) ran into more adversity in Saturday’s game than it did in its two earlier tournament wins over No. 6 Herbert Hoover and No. 7 Winfield. But, though finally tested, the Tigers proved their championship mettle once and for all, using an 8-0 spurt to open the third quarter and an 11-3 flurry across the third and fourth quarters to seize control. Shady hit 6 of 6 free throws in the final 2:24 to put the game on ice.
“What a battle,” Olson said. “You wouldn’t want to win a state championship blowing anybody out. That right there was a true reflection of our season. We can do it either way. We can grind you out or we can get up and down the floor and shoot 3s, but to end a game like that, to win it on the defensive end like that … it’s just amazing.
“State champs. That’s all I’ve got to say. State champs.”
In the first half, the Tigers trailed by as many as eight points at 19-11 as its vaunted 3-point attack came out cold. Also, two first-quarter fouls against Cameron Manns relegated the team’s 6-foot-4 forward to the bench, and an injury to guard Todd Duncan, the team’s only senior, also put him out in the first half.
Still, the Tigers were able close the first half on a 10-3 flurry to close within one at 22-21 at halftime, sparked by eight points from Braden Chapman. After Duncan and Manns returned to the lineup in the second half, so did the momentum. Shady took the lead with seven straight points to open the third quarter and though Central would tie it at 34 later in the period, the Tigers didn’t trail again.
Early in the game, the Maroon Knights’ zone forced long 3-point attempts from Shady, but as patience prevailed, the Tigers began to find pathways to the rim, getting easy layups and collapsing the defense for easy passes and shots.
“We knew there wasn’t a way they could really guard us and they played that little 2-3, like a man-to-man matchup,” Olson said. “They did a good job keeping us off balance and we just weren’t patient in the beginning. They just all sucked in the lane on us and we just wanted to settle for 3s and make cross-court passes. It confused us.”
Wheeling Central coach Mel Stephens agreed.
“I thought we had a pretty good game plan and it was pretty effective in the first half,” Stephens said. “They made a little run at the end of the half to cut it to one and came out of the gate in the third quarter and ripped off [eight] straight to get the lead and it didn’t seem like we ever recovered from that.”
While the Tigers’ 3-point shooting has garnered much attention this week, Shady’s defense was there when its distance shooting wasn’t. The Tigers forced 16 Wheeling Central turnovers, converting those into 15 points compared to just seven points off of nine turnovers for the Maroon Knights. And while the Tigers were just 4 of 15 from beyond the 3-point arc, they doubled Central up 28-14 in the paint.
The scoring effort was balanced for Shady with Chapman scoring 14 to go with seven steals, twin brother Cole Chapman adding 12 and Duncan finishing with 12. Shady was making just its second state-tournament appearance in school history.
And as for Olson’s socks, ones that Olson said he’d been wearing, unwashed since the sectionals?
“These are def going to be retired,” he said. “I’m going to save them for next year just in case we get in trouble at halftime. I’m going to keep these on standby and next year we can come back up here and make another run at it.”
While Manns was in early foul trouble, Central’s J.C. Maxwell dealt with his own, picking up his third and fourth fouls in the third quarter and sitting until well into the fourth. Maxwell had 30 points in a semifinal win over Hampshire, but was limited to 14 on Saturday to go with seven rebounds and five assists. Ryan Reasbeck scored 17 points to lead the Knights (14-3).