Fairmont Senior holds off Bridgeport for slot in AA finals
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Though the sun was out Friday afternoon and any remaining ice in the Charleston area surely started to melt, these Polar Bears are still afloat.
Fairmont Senior built a 12-point halftime lead, weathered a Bridgeport comeback in the third and fourth quarters and held on to beat the Indians 65-58 Friday afternoon at the Civic Center.
The win sends the No. 2-seeded Polar Bears into the Class AA state championship game at 2:30 p.m. today against No. 1 Bluefield.
The Polar Bears (21-6), who defeated Bridgeport in all three meetings between the schools this season, outscored the Indians 22-10 in the second quarter behind a barrage of baskets from seniors Travon Horton and Shaquille Washington and junior Jarin Hilson, giving Fairmont Senior a 39-27 halftime lead.
Bridgeport made its move in the third quarter as Hilson picked up three quick fouls to start the period and watched from the bench as the Indians chipped away at what was once a 16-point lead.
Bridgeport got within two points at 55-53 on a Jordan Haywood basket late in the fourth quarter but could not get any closer as the Polar Bears kept coming up with big plays down the stretch. Horton grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed free throw and hit a quick putback to give Fairmont Senior a 60-56 lead with one minute to play, then grabbed another offensive board in the closing seconds off another missed free throw to put the game out of Bridgeport's reach.
"They're athletes," Indians coach Gene Randolph said of the Polar Bears. "Under normal circumstances we probably get out of there with those [rebounds], but to their credit they came away with them."
Fairmont Senior coach David Retton said when Horton got his hands on the ball he could sense his team had done enough to advance to play for a state title.
"Can't say enough about Travon Horton and the job he did on those rebounds," Retton said. "Those rebounds, I thought they were backbreakers for Bridgeport. They gave us life. We go to the free-throw line and hit free throws. We got a conversion on them and that put the game away."
Horton and Hilson each finished with a game-high 19 points while Washington tallied 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to put the Polar Bears back in a state championship game for the first time since a loss in the 1998 Class AAA final against Woodrow Wilson. Horton and Washington combined for eight offensive rebounds while Fairmont Senior was able to beat the Bridgeport defense in the paint going to the basket.
"We definitely wanted to find [Washington] in the post because he was working so hard on [Bridgeport forward] Ryan Sprouse," Hilson said. "He was posting so hard. Every timeout we would stress feeding Quille because he was finishing, but he would also kick out when they would double."
Horton, Hilson and Washington weren't having all the fun for the Polar Bears. Junior Austin Norman only managed three points in 31 minutes but pulled down seven rebounds and proved to be a nice complement to Washington's physical presence in the paint.
Sophomore Tavon Horton, Travon's younger brother, also played important minutes for the Polar Bears when Hilson was on the bench with three fouls in the third quarter. The younger Horton, nicknamed "Butters," finished with five points, two steals and three assists in 15 minutes of playing time.
"Butters comes to practice every day and he works hard on every possession," Retton said. "He's the first guy to dive on the ball or dive on the floor for a loose ball. I would say he's taken five plays off all year in practice. You're talking hundreds of plays in a day."
Fairmont Senior finished with 20 assists (led by Hilson's seven) compared to just five turnovers - with just one in the second half.
"I've said this from Day One about our basketball team - they're all about team," Retton said. "They're all about sharing the ball. If we have one guy that has a hot hand the other guys are looking for him within what we do, and they've been that way all year."
For Bridgeport, the loss meant more than just the end of another season. Randolph coached the final game of his 20-year tenure with the Indians and, as one might expect, became emotional when talking about the end of his career as a high school basketball coach.
"I thanked them very much for the gift that they gave me," Randolph said. "I've had a tremendous love affair with this game since I was a little tyke and I just told them it took a lot for them to go out like they did today as competitors. That's what I've always tried to do. We may not be the fastest or the biggest or whatever, but that never made any difference. I just wanted for them to show their love of the game and to go out as competitors."
The Indians' Jordan Haywood followed his 28-point performance in the quarterfinals against Westside with a team-leading 17-point output while also collecting a team-high nine rebounds. Forward John Wilfong added 16 points and eight boards while guard Tyler Sprouse had 15 points.
"That's a good semifinal game," Randolph said. "That's how it's supposed to go. It doesn't always go that way but you've got to give Fairmont West a lot of credit. If we had to lose to somebody, it was good to know that regardless of how it went the Big Ten was going to survive. We were hoping it would be us but that was not to be."
The Polar Bears move on to play in the school's 10th overall boys basketball state championship game and are seeking their first title since defeating Robert C. Byrd for the 1996 Class AAA championship.
Reach Tom Bragg at email@example.com.