BUFFALO, W.Va. — A roller-coaster enthusiast couldn’t have asked for more out of a basketball game.
Shelby Turley converted two free throws with 4.5 seconds left in regulation, allowing host Buffalo to wrap up a thrilling 32-minute ride Tuesday night with a 40-38 victory over Wahama in the opening round of the Class A Region 4, Section 2 girls tournament at ‘The Barn’ in Putnam County.
In what will surely go down as one of the best kept secrets of the 2016 West Virginia postseason, both the Lady Bison (3-19) and Lady Falcons (0-23) found themselves locked in a somewhat unforeseeable battle over the final 16 minutes of play.
Fourth-seeded Buffalo — which led 30-13 a minute into the third period — missed 11 shots and committed six turnovers over the course of the next eight minutes of play … and Wahama took full advantage of the opportunity.
The fifth-seeded Lady Falcons — who committed 16 first half turnovers — reeled off a dozen straight points to end the third quarter trailing by a 30-25 margin, then made a 13-1 surge to secure their largest lead of the game at 38-31 with 2:44 remaining in regulation.
BHS — which mustered only three points in the opening 13 minutes of the second half — found its offensive rhythm again as the hosts reeled off five straight points in the next minute, then Michaela Lewis tied the game at 38-all with a short jumper with 20 seconds remaining.
WHS senior Olivia Hill missed the front end of a bonus free throw with 14 seconds remaining, but the rebound was ultimately knocked out of bounds by Buffalo — giving Wahama possession with 7.2 seconds left on its own sideline.
The ensuing inbounds pass, however, ended up getting picked off as Turley beat a breaking Wahama player to the ball— which also resulted in a foul 80 feet from the Buffalo basket with less than five seconds left.
Turley calmly knocked down both charity tosses to complete a 9-0 charge over the final 2:23, but the Lady Falcons still had time for one final play.
Hill received the inbounds pass, dribbled the to the top of the key and let a decent look at a 21-footer fly, but the ball drew front iron and bounced over the backboard as the horn sounded.
Both teams squandered chances to put the game away, most notably at the free throw line. The Lady Bison were 6-of-15 from the stripe in the second half, while Wahama netted only 2-of-7 free throw attempts during that same span.
It was a bittersweet ending for the Lady Falcons, who have now dropped 67 straight decisions — which includes a third consecutive winless campaign. But, as WHS coach John Arnott noted throughout most of the season, his kids never quit through any of the adversity.
And, in turn, Wahama proved to be a better basketball team at season’s end. As the first-year coach mentioned afterwards, they gave all that they had until the very end — and that was something he was proud of.
“The young kids definitely learned something from those seniors tonight, much like they have throughout the season. They never quit, even when they could have. Instead, they worked together to get through it,” Arnott said. “We could have very easily walked away from this thing at halftime, but we instead decided to fight … and we almost pulled it off.
“I know those seniors wanted a win in the worst way, but they absolutely gave everything that they had and left it on the floor. I couldn’t ask any more of them than that.”
Maddy VanMatre scored the first basket at the 6:34 mark for a 2-0 Wahama lead, but the hosts answered with a 9-1 run over the next 5:30 to take their biggest first quarter edge at 9-3. WHS, however, countered with a 4-1 run the rest of the way to trail 10-7 after eight minutes of play.
The Lady Bison hit 6-of-13 field goal attempts in the second period and Wahama committed 10 turnovers during that same span, which allowed BHS to go on an 18-4 charge en route to a 28-11 halftime advantage.
The Lady Falcons answered with a 14-2 surge in the third stanza to close to within five, then ultimately won the fourth quarter by a 13-10 margin — but still lost by a single possession.
VanMatre completed an old-fashioned three-point play at the 6:10 mark of the fourth, allowing Wahama to take a slim 32-31 cushion.
Molly Fisher’s basket at the 2:44 mark completed the Lady Falcons’ impressive 25-1 run over a 12-minute span between the third and fourth frames while giving the guests a seven-point lead. The Red and White, however, missed their final five shot attempts and didn’t score the rest of the way.
Buffalo — which advances to Thursday’s Region 4, Section 2 semifinal against seven-time defending state champion Huntington Saint Joseph — defeated WHS by a 49-28 count in Mason back on February 13.
The Lady Bison also improved to 3-2 overall against Mason County programs, with the lone setbacks coming to Point Pleasant — a Class AAA program.
The Lady Falcons outrebounded the Blue and Gold by a 32-24 overall margin, including an 11-8 edge on the offensive glass. WHS committed 20 turnovers in the setback, while Buffalo committed 16 turnovers — eight in each half.
Wahama netted 17-of-48 field goal attempts for 35 percent, which included a 1-of-7 effort from three-point range for 14 percent. The guests were also 3-of-9 at the free throw line for 33 percent.
Hill led WHS with 14 points, followed by VanMatre with a double-double effort of 12 points and 13 rebounds. Nena Hunt was next with five points and Kymber Bowyer added three markers.
Fisher and Destiny Ingels rounded out the Wahama tally with two points apiece. Hill also hauled in seven rebounds in the setback.
The Lady Bison made 13-of-38 field goal attempts for 34 percent, including a 3-of-16 effort from behind the arc for 19 percent. The hosts also made 11-of-23 charity tosses for 48 percent.
Lewis led BHS with a game-high 17 points, followed by Turley with 13 points and a team-best nine rebounds. Emily Reilly was next with five points, while Katlyn Dillon and Randi Cobb respectively wrapped up the winning tally with three and two markers.
It was the final basketball game for senior Olivia Hill, Destiny Ingels, Kymber Bowyer, Molly Fisher and Faith Henry in the Red and White. The Lady Falcons finished last in the TVC Hocking with an 0-16 record and enter next winter with a 53-game losing skid in league play.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.