Though the final record and the final statistics may not reflect it to the casual basketball fan, it certainly was a successful season for head coach Jason Claytor and his West Union Lady Dragons varsity girls squad. First off, the Lady Dragons won 8 games in the season, the highest total for the program since the 2002-03 season, when that Lady Dragons team won 9. Also, the West Union girls won their first tournament game since the 2007-08 season when they topped Northwest 48-38 on Feb. 10.
“There’s been more positives for our high school progam this year than there has the last couple,” said Claytor. “We’re going in that right direction and building up from where we started. We did a lot of things this year that we weren’t capable of doing in years past.”
That first tourney win in eight years earned the Lady Dragons a trip to the Division III sectional championship game on Feb. 13 at Valley High School, where they matched up with the number-two ranked in the state Lynchburg-Clay Lady Mustangs. That sounds like overwhelming odds and again the casual fan might just look at the final score of 64-39 in Lynchburg’s favor and think it was the expected blowout. Think again.
The Lady Dragons gave their highly favored opponent all they wanted on Saturday, leading through most of the first quarter before the Lady Mustangs pulled away and earned their trip to the district tournament.
“I thought we all really battled today,” said Coach Claytor. “We made some mistakes that ended up costing us but we battled the whole game and gave them all they wanted for a quarter and a half. Very few teams pushed them like that this year.”
Anyone who may have arrived at Valley High School a few minutes late on Saturday may have been in for a shock when they entered the gym and looked up at the overhead scoreboard. On the strength of three-pointers by Alexa Pennington and McKenzie Kirker, the Lady Dragons led the number two team in the state 10-4 more than halfway through the first quarter. The rusty Lady Mustangs, who had been off for a long period of time since completing their regular season, regained their composure with the aid of a McKayla Binkley trey to to battle back to within 12-11, but a bucket by senior Mikayla Akers proceeded another Lynchburg three that tied the game at 14, to the surprise of many, after the end of the initial eight minutes.
Lynchburg took its first lead of the game with five straight to begin the second frame, but West Union answered with a Shannon Runyan three-pointer. A later basket by Pennington and Kristen Grooms free throw kept the Lady Dragons within striking distance, but the explosive Lady Mustangs scored the final 12 points of the first half to open up a 37-20 advantage and seal the fate of their Adams County opponent.
The Lady Mustangs won the second half by a score of 27-19 as they improved to 22-1 on the year and moved on to district tournament play.
In the season-ending loss, the Lady Dragons were led by 14 points from Alexa Pennington, ending a fine freshman season for her. The loss also meant the end of the careers of three seniors, Kristen Grooms, Mikayla Akers, and Hannah Riddle, who combined for 8 points in their final outing.
“Kendall Gallowitz played excellent today, huge for us early,” added Coach Claytor. “Alexa played another stellar game for us-14 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks.”
“We say goodbye to three fantastic seniors, who have given so much to our program, and we will certainly miss them.”
The Lady Mustangs put five players in double figures, led by 16 points from McKayla Binkley. sister Hannah Binkley and Ali Little added 11, with Peyton Scott and Vanessa Thiel getting 10 apiece.
WUHS 14 6 7 12 —39
LCHS 14 23 15 12 —64
WUHS (39): Runyan 2 0-0 6, Baldwin 1 1-2 4, Kirker 1 0-0 3, Akers 1 2-2 4, Riddle 1 0-0 3, Grooms 0 1-4 1, Gallowitz 2 0-0 4, Pennington 6 0-1 14, Team 14 4-9 39.
LCHS (64): Roush 1 2-2 4, Little 4 3-4 11, Scott 4 2-3 10, Thiel 3 4-8 10, Wills 1 0-0 2, H. Binkley 4 2-3 11, M. Binkley 5 4-4 16, Team 22 17-24 64.
WUHS- Runyan 2, Baldwin 1, Kirker 1, Riddle 1, Pennington 2
LCHS- H. Binkley 1, M. Binkley 2