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Dogs end Eagles' reign

February 23, 2007|by JOHN O'BRIEN / Staff Correspondent

SHENANDOAH JUNCTION, W.Va. - The group of underclassmen that makes up the majority of Martinsburg's girls basketball team didn't want to hear a speech on sectional playoff history Thursday, nor did it need one.

In the Region II Section 2 championship against Hedgesville, the Bulldogs were only interested in creating their own history.

Sophomore Dakeea Marshall scored 24 points, and the Bulldogs overcame a 12-point second-half deficit to defeat the Eagles 47-39 at Jefferson High School, ending Hedgesville's streaks of three consecutive sectional titles and 19 straight wins against sectional opponents.

"We were just tired of seeing them go to states," said Marshall, who scored 14 of her points in a frantic fourth-quarter rally. "We had to step up."

It was the first time the Eagles (17-5) were knocked down in the sectional playoffs since a similarly overlooked Bulldogs team pulled ahead with a similarly dominant fourth quarter in 2003. Hedgesville had made the trip to the state tournament three straight times since, and had won 11 straight games entering Thursday.

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"I have, pretty much, a bunch of sophomores and freshmen, so they don't know what Hedgesville's done. They were in fifth grade when it started," Martinsburg coach Beth Sedlar said. "They weren't fazed by the history."

Martinsburg trailed 28-26 entering the fourth quarter and withstood a seven-point burst from Ashton Butler that gave Hedgesville a 35-28 lead with six minutes to play.

From there, Marshall and the Bulldogs (11-10) took control and finished the game on a 19-4 run that started with a Marshall 3-pointer, Martinsburg's only long-range make of the game.

After that, Marshall rebounded a Butler miss and took it in for a layup, then traded baskets with Hedgesville's Brittany Boarman. Freshman reserve Shaniece Nunn pulled up and hit a game-tying jumper, then freshman Jamie Hill found Marshall for an open jumper that gave the Bulldogs their first lead since 11-9 midway through the second quarter.

Ahead 39-37, Marshall hit a free throw with 1:09 remaining to push the lead to three, and the Bulldogs got stops on defense while nailing 8 of 10 fourth-quarter free throws for the final margin. Sophomore Iesha Robinson made all four of her free throws in the final minute, while Marshall made 3 of 4.

Sedlar said she couldn't remember an individual fourth-quarter performance like the one Marshall turned in.

"We like to think the fourth quarter is our time," Sedlar said. "That's our period. Dakeea really took that to heart tonight."

Hedgesville coach Ben Merica said his team "self-destructed." The Eagles committed 10 second-half turnovers after only five in the first half.

"I'm not a bit surprised," Merica said. "They've got athletes. They finally put some stuff together, and we self-destructed. That's the bottom line.

"These nights happen. A win's not always guaranteed. Just ask (NASCAR driver) Mark Martin."

Martinsburg went six minutes without a point to start the second quarter and went down 25-13 on Butler's jumper with 4:50 remaining in the third. However, the Bulldogs responded with 11 straight points in only 2:11, with sophomore point guard ShaRonda McDowell converting two steals into fast-break layups.

Butler scored 14 of her 18 points in the second half and accounted for all but four of the Eagles' points after halftime. She also added a team-high eight rebounds in her final prep contest.

She missed her final four shots, though, after McDowell started covering her in the Bulldogs' man-to-man defense. Boarman and Ciera Nicholson each scored eight points as Hedgesville shot 34 percent (17 of 50) from the floor.

"I've been preaching defense all year, and I'll keep doing it until the day I die," Sedlar said. "I'm so pleased with the way they dug and fought and came back. It was all defense, not offense.

"Everybody on the court played well, and the bench did a good job."

Robinson and Hill each grabbed eight rebounds, and Marshall gathered nine in addition to shouldering the scoring load.

"The Marshall girl was clutch today," Merica said. "She was really clutch for them."

"Our team needed somebody to step up. I had to," Marshall said. "The fourth quarter - it doesn't matter what happened in the first, second, third - all that matters is that last one."

Martinsburg will play Hampshire on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Hedgesville in the regional final. The winner will head to Charleston for the state tournament.

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