Gallery by Heather Belcher
Charleston – While an elephant never forgets a Polar Bear seems to put the worst behind it.
The Fairmont Senior Polar Bears avenged an 85-65 January loss to Shady Spring, beating the Tigers 47-42 in the Class AAA championship game Saturday evening at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center.
In a rematch of last year’s title game, one won by the Polar Bears, Fairmont (27-1) controlled the tempo never letting Shady’s (23-4) offense find the traction it did in January. As a result the Tigers hoisted just 34 shots, struggling for long stretches while the Polar Bears never faltered, capitalizing on their 31 attempts by converting 17 of them for a 54 percent clip.
As was the case in the middle two quarters of their semifinal matchup with Scott, the Tigers struggled to find points. They produced just 15 in the second and third quarters combined and went scoreless for the final 4:54 of the third quarter Saturday.
“When we played GW, we got beat twice the same way,” Fairmont head coach Dave Retton said. “As a coach, it’s like, man you’re so disappointed in yourself to get beat twice the same way. We just looked at what they did to us and said, ‘Are we going to try and go toe-to-toe with them, or are we going to try and change it?’ Our philosophy was we were going to have to change it if we want to be successful. We wanted to control the tempo with our defense. We switched a lot. We played a lot of 2-3 tonight. We played more 2-3 tonight probably more than we did all season. But again it’s what the game dictated. To these guys’ credit they bought in.”
Retton admitted to noticing Shady only scored 22 points in the middle quarters against Scott – the same amount it scored in the first quarter of that game – and borrowed some of the 2-3 concepts the Skyhawks utilized to implement into Saturday’s gameplan.
“There was a lot I picked from that game,” Retton said. “There was a lot. When I say a lot, I watched them in the 2-3 in the second half and I also watched them – but they left one guy in the lane. We did what coach (Allen) Osborne did from Poca. We got everyone back. We got everyone back and wanted to limit their fast break opportunities and for the most part – a couple times I thought I was going to lose my mind. I thought I was going to lose my mind when we had a couple guys that got free, I really ddi. Fortunately I’m okay.”
Early it appeared the Retton and Co. would have to scrap their plan entirely.
A 3 from Braden Chapman, a pair of free throws from Cam Manns and a layup from Chapman put the Tigers up 7-0 at the 5:38 mark of the first quarter. Andre Grant put Fairmont on the board with a layup out of a timeout but Chapman buried a deep 3 in response.
But the Polar Bears weren’t deterred.
Grant answered with his own 3 before Desean Goode added a trey and a tip to make it a 12-10 game after a frame. The 6-foot-7 wing carried that momentum into the second quarter, capping a 12-2 run with a pair of layups that gave the Polar Bears their first advantage at 14-12.
Goode proved a handful for the Tigers all night, finishing with a team-high 18 points on 8 of 10 shooting.
“My teammates just fed me the ball,” Goode said. “Whenever things were going good, they just told me to keep attacking and coach told me to also keep attacking and told me if they closed in to kick out, maybe get a shot.”
The Tigers answered with their own run, a 7-0 spurt that got junior Ammar Maxwell going. He accounted for five of those points and 11 straight for the Tigers at one point.
The issue was the supporting cast went cold.
He helped the Tigers take a 21-20 advantage into the half and put them up 25-23 before Chapman nailed an acrobatic layup to make it a 27-23 game with 4:54 left in the quarter.
Shady’s next points didn’t come until the fourth when Maxwell nailed a pair of free throws and Chapman followed with a 3 and a layup to make it 34-30 Shady with 6:16 remaining.
Chapman, who scored a game-high 23 points on 8 of 12 shooting, was stellar in his final high school game, limiting Fairmont all-stater Zycheus Dobbs to one point on one shot attempt in 24 minutes.
“Our game plan was to stop Dobbs,” Shady Spring head coach Ronnie Olson said. “And Goode showed up and did a good job. Their defense was great. Our defense was great. The defense were great on both ends. It was a defensive battle. We just couldn’t put it in the bucket a little bit. We missed some shots we usually make.”
Goode quelled the flurry with a layup but Chapman finished a three-point play that pushed the Shady advantage to five at 37-32.
But the Polar Bears made plays when it counted and capitalized.
Ahead 38-35 after a Julz Butler 3 cut Shady’s advantage, Fairmont got within one on Goode’s final field goal of the night before Connor Gower nailed a 3 in transition that gave Fairmont the lead for good.
Trailing by 3 late, the Tigers had opportunities to tie when a ball went out of bounds off a Fairmont player with under 30 seconds to go but a Chapman 3 was off the mark. Still the Tigers were given another opportunity when the rebound bounced off a Fairmont player and out of bounds but another attempt inside the paint was corralled by the Polar Bears and thrown ahead to Gower who made a layup with five seconds left, coronating the defending champs again.
Olson and Co. were prepared for the type of game that played out but admitted it often comes down to a coin flip.
“They did a good job switching their matchup zone and man,” Olson said. “We fumbled some passes and missed some layups. Basketball’s pretty simple. I’ll say it when we win and say it when we lose. We missed a couple passes and layups and free throws. It’s pretty simple. They’re a good team. We beat them at home. Our place is hard to play in and we knew it was going to be a game like this. I knew it wasn’t going to be 70-71. We prepared for this and they prepared for this. They just made some more shots than us and they executed a little bit better. The referees were good. The players were good, the coaches were good. It was a well-played game. They just beat us.”
The loss is Shady’s first to an in-state opponent since the season opener when it lost at Morgantown, the eventual Class AAAA champion. It also marks the final game in a Shady uniform for seniors Jaedan Holstein, Cam Manns, Sam Jordan and Braden and Cole Chapman.
The group led the Tigers to three consecutive Class AAA title games, winning it all in 2021. Prior to their arrival the program had just one state tournament appearance, coming in 1994.
“I’m proud of my guys, proud of my seniors,” Olson said. “Just like any coach. We lose gracefully as well. I’m proud of of our community and I’m proud of what they built. Nobody would’ve told us four years ago that we would’ve been playing for three state championships. I sucks to lose. It sucks. It SUCKS! But I’m proud of my guys.”
Grant, Manns, Maxwell, Dobbs, Goode and Braden Chapman earned all-tournament honors. Joining them were Eli Robertson (Hoover), Cory Harper (Elkins), Malachi Watson (Elkins) and Reece Carden (Scott).
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