Jan. 18—PETERSBURG, W.Va. — When it came time to close out one of its demons, Keyser struggled to finish the job. That is, until one of its seniors came to the line.
The Golden Tornado, who had dropped eight straight to Petersburg dating back to 2018, saw a six-point lead in the final minute evaporate due to six missed free throws in a row.
With a chance to ice the game, Averi Everline sunk a pair of foul shots with 5.1 seconds left to allow Keyser to hold off No. 4 Petersburg, 53-49, on Tuesday night.
"It's been few years since we've had a win over here," Keyser head coach Josh Blowe said. "I know it was an ugly game overall, but I was very pleased with my inexperienced team finding a way to win.
"We turned the ball over, we missed free throws, we missed a couple defensive assignments, but when you find a way to get a win on the road, especially against a really quality team like this ... it means something to our girls."
The victory was Keyser's first over Petersburg since Jan. 30, 2018 — a 57-42 rout in Grant County that capped a string of 18 wins in 19 tries against the Vikings.
Entering Tuesday, the bout appeared to be dead even on paper.
Keyser (9-4) is still trying to find its footing after graduating six seniors from a team that made the Class AAA state tournament but had won 3 of 4 games coming in.
Meanwhile Petersburg (7-6), the two-time defending area champions, seemed primed for another strong season before All-Area first-team guard Kennedy Kaposy suffered a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 3 against Tucker County. Since then, the Vikings have dropped 4 of 6.
With the clock dipping below a minute Tuesday, Keyser led 50-44 yet saw its lead evaporate after a series of turnovers and missed foul shots.
A bucket by Braylee Corbin, an Ayden Mayfield free throw and a Sammy Colaw score brought Petersburg within 50-49 with 38 seconds remaining.
The Vikings got the ball back down by one point with 13.6 seconds left and again down 51-49 seconds later but turned it over both times. Everline finally sealed the deal with a pair of foul shots, the final two points of her game-high 17. Kiara Kesner joined her in double figures with 10.
"The last couple minutes we had a couple opportunities to tie or take the lead and we just couldn't get it to go," Petersburg head coach Jon Webster said. "We fought back until the end."
Keyser contained Petersburg early with its 2-3 zone, limiting the penetration of the Vikings' guards and keeping Corbin, who still ended with a team-high 14, out of the paint. The Tornado opened to an 8-4 lead and were up 11-9 after the first.
Petersburg guard Nellie Whetzel, who finished with eight points, leveled the score at 15-all with an old-fashioned 3-point play at the 5:35 mark of the second quarter, yet Keyser regained control.
The Tornado scored 11 of the next 15 points to go up 26-19; however, Petersburg close the half on a 7-0 burst to enter the locker room tied at 26.
The Vikings continued their period of good play to begin the second half, as Addison Kitzmiller converted a 3-point play and hit a mid-range jumper — she finished with 11 points — to put Petersburg ahead 35-28 early in the third.
Between the two halves, Petersburg's run swelled as high as 16-2.
"I thought we did a good job during that period when we were able to get out in transition and get some baskets," Webster said. "We were able to keep that going for a little bit, but then Keyser had a timeout, made a few adjustments, and they were able to get control back to the tempo that they wanted."
Keyser responded with a 6-0 flurry to get within 37-35 after three quarters, and the Tornado retook the lead for good when Everline drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer over top of the Petersburg zone with 6:19 to play.
Everline scored 15 of her 17 points after halftime, including seven in the fourth quarter.
"Averi hit a couple shots, we had a couple nice sets there for her," Blowe said. "When we went on our little run, it was because we took care of the ball, we executed on defense."
Petersburg waged a furious response late, but it just couldn't get over the hump.
The Vikings are still trying to figure out their rotation without the do-it-all Kaposy at the top of their offense and defense. Fortunately or Webster, they still have plenty of time before the postseason.
With a wide-open region, a third consecutive trip to the Class AA state tournament is still in the cards.
"She's been a big part of what we've done as a program the last four years," Webster said of Kaposy, who averaged 13.8 points per game last season. "To replace someone like her is really tough. We're trying to find out how to play without her and figure out who needs to step up and fill certain roles.
"It's a learning curve right now that we're trying to figure out. We're doing better, but we still have a long way to go."
It doesn't get any easier for Petersburg, which hosts No. 3 Hampshire (6-6) on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Keyser welcomes Berkeley Springs to Mineral County on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
"Beginning of the season, I had no clue where we'd be," Blowe said. "If you'd have told me we'd be 9-4 at this point in the season, I'd have said I'll take it. I'll take it every day and twice on Sunday."
Alex Rychwalski is a sports reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.