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Martinsburg girls roll into states

March 07, 2007|by DAN KAUFFMAN

It wasn't long ago that the idea of Martinsburg's girls basketball team reaching the West Virginia state tournament was far-fetched at best.

After a 69-61 loss at home to University on Jan. 27, the Bulldogs were 5-9, on a four-game losing streak and appeared to be going nowhere fast.

"I told our players that if they keep working hard, good things will happen," Martinsburg coach Beth Sedlar said Tuesday. "I think they doubted that at one point, but they believed me and good things started to happen."

"We weren't worried about the beginning of the season," sophomore center Dakeea Marshall said. "We were worried about the end of February."

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February proved to be very sweet for the Bulldogs.

Martinsburg (12-11) finished the regular season by winning four of its last six games, notching victories over Musselman, Jefferson, Berkeley Springs and Mercersburg Academy. In the sectional semifinals, the Bulldogs edged Jefferson, 49-45.

But the big victory was a 47-39 stunner over Hedgesville in the sectional final, a game in which Martinsburg overcame a seven-point deficit by holding the Eagles to four points in the final six minutes. The win avenged losses of two and seven points to Hedgesville earlier in the season and ended the Eagles' run of three straight sectional titles.

"The Hedgesville game was the turning point," Sedlar said. "They'd been sectional champs three times in a row, and that was the turning point where it clicked in our players' heads that we could play at that level. It was encouraging that we were in (the other two) games, but the turning point was winning sectionals."

"It really sunk in after the game was over," sophomore forward Iesha Robinson said. "That was the first time we beat them in a couple years, and we're still a young team. We have a couple more years ahead of us. So to make it this far is a great accomplishment."

Martinsburg wrapped up a spot in the Class AAA state tournament with a 53-45 win over Hampshire in the regional final, as Marshall had 21 points and 11 rebounds and Robinson added 16 points and nine rebounds.

The Bulldogs' dynamic sophomores have led the way during the resurgence. Both averaged 11.8 points through the first 19 games. Marshall averaged 6.9 rebounds and Robinson five.

But where it all starts for Martinsburg is on the defensive end. Robinson had 37 steals, Marshall 34 and Sharonda McDowell 33 through those first 19 games.

"The focus has always been the same," Sedlar said. "Defense you can count on every night. On offense, you never know how the ball will bounce. Defense has always been the main focus."

The Bulldogs enter the state tournament seeded sixth and will play third-seed Morgantown on Thursday at 11:15 a.m. at the Charleston Civic Center.

"They're almost a mirror image of us," Sedlar said. "They have quick guards, a girl who can shoot the 3, a girl with quick hands. They're going to press and bring the pressure from start to finish."

Sedlar quickly put to rest any thoughts about the Bulldogs being content just to have made the state tournament.

"They're not satisfied with just being here. You can tell that in practice," Sedlar said. "They want to go down and try to make a statement. I hope we can go down there and keep playing the way we've been playing."

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