Keyser upsets reigning state champ North Marion, 61-51, earns spot in Charleston

Feb. 29—KEYSER, W.Va. — For the third time in school history, Keyser is heading to the state tournament in Charleston, West Virginia.

Once again, the defense stepped up when needed most, leading the Golden Tornado (18-5) to a 61-51 upset win over North Marion on Wednesday.

"Our girls played with extreme heart and passion," Keyser head coach Josh Blowe said. "They played for each other, they played for this community. The community came out and supported us and gave us exactly what we needed. The energy was outstanding, the best I can remember since probably 2014. We are very proud of our girls, the way they played and executed tonight."

The Huskies (15-9) were the reigning Class AAA state champions and qualified for 14 of the last 17 state tournaments.

"We just didn't come out playing real smart," North Marion head coach Mike Parrish said. "A lot of the things in practice, we didn't do. We struggled to score, we refused to move on them."

After 21 seasons and a 5-0 record in state title games, Parrish also announced his retirement.

It was anyone's game for the first eight minutes with five lead changes and two ties.

Neither team led by more than one point for most of the quarter, it also stayed a one-possession game the entire first quarter.

Savannah Walls gave the Huskies a 12-10 lead on a layup with 25 seconds remaining.

"Every time you're defending state champs, you're gonna get everyone's best shot," Parrish said. "We've been on a great run, every time we play we get teams' best shots."

On the other end, Bibs Felton split a pair of free throws to cut Keyser's deficit to 12-11 heading into the second quarter.

Keyser has won 12 consecutive games, holding opponents to under 40 points in 10 of those 12.

The defense stepped up again, especially in the second quarter.

After a scoop-and-score layup by Kiara Kesner, the Tornado took a 13-12 lead early in the quarter.

"If you'd told me day one of our first practice, I would've said of Charleston, we'll see," Blowe said. "I was doubtful maybe, but the 11-game winning streak coming in gave us confidence. We can play with anybody, we can beat anybody, we just gotta play with heart and passion."

Tied at 16 with 5:45 left before halftime, the Golden Tornado defense shut out North Marion the rest of the half.

Keyser scored eight unanswered, taking a 24-16 lead at the break.

"Our man-to-man defense was outstanding," Blowe said. "Every single player, we knew their strengths, their weaknesses and exactly how we wanted to attack them."

The Huskies were held to 5 of 22 shooting (23%) in the first half with only one made field goal in the second quarter.

"Offensively, it wasn't good," Parrish said. "No one was moving, everyone was stagnant. Emma (Freels) was trying to score, everybody else was watching her. We're not gonna beat a team going one on five."

The Tornado controlled the third quarter, maintaining a double digit lead for most of it.

Keyser led by as many as 15 points at 44-29 when Felton set up Austyn Healy for a layup with 1:23 left in the quarter.

Felton scored 10 points in the third and had 15 in the second half. She finished with a game-high 22 points, three assists, two steals and a block.

"She has had the greatest scoring season in Keyser High School history," Blowe said. "I don't know what else I can say."

North Marion scored 19 points in the third led by Freels. She scored eight points in the third quarter and 11 in the second half to finish with a team-high 19 points and four assists.

The Tornado took a 46-35 lead into the fourth quarter, but North Marion quickly cut the deficit to open the quarter.

After Keyser missed several layups, the Huskies took advantage.

North Marion went on a 12-3 run to cut the deficit to 49-47 with 3:40 left on a 3-pointer by Meya Kotsko.

"We cut it to two and didn't box out on a free throw," Parrish said. "Then they get a turnover, go down and score again. Turns a two-point game into a six-point game."

Kotsko hit three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and finished with 12 points.

Similar to the first half, Keyser's defense stepped up to close out the game.

The Tornado held the Huskies to two points, both at the line in the final 3:40.

Free throws were key for Keyser, who made 28 of 44 attempts. The Tornado shot 16 of 27 at the charity stripe in the second half.

"We haven't played well the last three games, it's basketball," Parrish said. "Someone's happy, someone's sad. Tonight's our turn to be sad, so be proud of what you did last year as state champions. A lot of teams don't get to do that."

Autumn Kerchner scored 10 of her 14 points in the second half for Keyser, also adding three assists, a steal and a block.

Rooney Urice was key defensively for the Tornado. She scored four points, recorded four steals and had several key defensive stops.

"Rooney has been like that since our first summer league game," Blowe said. "This is one of the highest praises you can give a player, she impacts the game so much more than just her scoring. Her steals, her hustle, energy, ball confidence is so important for our team. If she scores zero, she can win a game for you by scoring zero."

Keyser will head to Charleston for the third time since 2014.

The No. 7 seed Golden Tornado will play second seed Wayne (22-1) in the state quarterfinals on Tuesday at 1 p.m.

"North Marion's a great team, we had a lot of battles," Blowe said. "We finished 3-4 over seven matches, we'll take it. North Marion's the cream of the crop. North Marion is a great standard to reach, I'm so proud of our girls for reaching that standard tonight."

Jordan Kendall is a Sports Writer for the Cumberland Times-News. Email him with scores and story suggestions at