ELKINS— After opening the contest going just one for six during the first four minutes, the Grafton High School (GHS) Bearcats rattled back with a blowout second half performance that led them to a Class AAA Region II Co-Championship win over the Elkins Tigers.
Despite turning the ball over nearly half a dozen times during the first half, Elkins took a one-point lead into the locker room.
The Tigers opened scoring in the paint at 6:52 in the first, and from there went on a 6-0 run off Bearcat turnovers.
Senior Ryan Maier would finally put the Cats on the board midway through the opening frame, sparking a run for Grafton to answer.
Tied at six with 3:05 remaining in the first, the two teams traded turnovers over the next few possessions.
Grafton would take its first lead with 1:45 left on the clock, however, Elkins responded quickly and ended the frame ahead 11-8.
After going 0-1 from the three in the opening eight, senior Kaden Delaney cut into the Tigers’ lead early in the second with a quick three ball.
Over the next several minutes of action, the game would be an intense battle with three ties and eight lead changes, that included the Bearcats and Elkins exchanging long range shots before the break.
With under five minutes left in the half the Tigers would connect from the outside, only for Grafton’s Jacob Maier to come in clutch and drain one of his own to put the Bearcats back on top 20-19.
R. Maier tied the game once more at 22, side stepping defenders and taking it to the rim with 3:25 remaining.
After seeing some more back and forth play, Bearcat Isaac Lough would tie things up again at 26, when he connected on an outside shot.
The half came to a close with the Tigers on top with a narrow one-point advantage.
Seeing some trouble in the paint, as the Cats missed the mark on some close-range shots, Grafton’s coaching staff used the break not to change their strategy but rather to calm their team.
Grafton’s demeanor in the second had visibly shifted, as the team displayed more patience on the offensive end, spreading the floor and finding the gaps in the Tigers’ defensive, giving them more open looks at the basket.
The Bearcats outscored the Tigers 9-8 in the third, as the trend of the first half continued with more lead changes and ties.
Grafton would finally pull away from Elkins for good as time wore down.
With under one minute remaining in the third quarter, the Bearcats led 33-32. Delaney would interrupt play for the Tigers, making the steal and extending the Grafton lead with a three-point play before heading into the final frame.
Delaney, feeling the energy recorded back-to-back buckets to start the fourth, widening the Cats’ advantage to 40-32.
As time slipped away, the Tigers’ efforts to claw their way back, resulted in some free shots for the Cats.
Contributing to the team’s 14 final quarter points, R. Maier went eight for eight from the foul line to help propel Grafton to victory.
Although the Cats led by just five with nearly three minutes remaining, the Tigers were unable to overcome Grafton’s stout second half defense, as they recorded just nine points to close out the contest.
Managing to hang on through a tough first half, and pull away in the second, Grafton celebrated the 50-41 victory, and cut the nets as Class AAA Region II Co-Champions.
R. Maier led Grafton’s scoring efforts with 21, while Delaney added 13.
Scoring for the Tigers was led by Jayden Shreve with 13 and Macachi Watson with 12.
The night saw a battle on the boards, with the Bearcats coming out on top and outrebounding the Tigers 22-20.
With the win, Grafton has earned its spot in the state tournament seeded fifth, and will be traveling to Charleston on Wednesday to take on No. 4 Wheeling Central Catholic at 9:00 p.m.
Player scoring stats: Ryan Maier: FG-5, 3PT-1, FT- 8/8 TP- 21; Tanner Moats: FG-1,TP-2; Jacob Maier: 3PT-1, TP-3; Isaac Lough: 3PT- 1, TP-3, Kaden Delaney: FG-4, 3PT-1,FT-2/3, TP-13 ; JT Veltri: FG-4, TP-8.