WV Thunder wins first AAU national title
HUNTINGTON -- West Virginia Thunder 13-Under AAU girls basketball players knew they had their hands full Wednesday afternoon with the Georgia Pistols.
It turned out, however, that Huntington-based West Virginia Thunder had its own sharpshooter that got off one final shot.
Brittani Rizzi hit a 3-point field goal as time expired to give West Virginia Thunder a 53-50 win over the Pistols and its first-ever national championship at Lakota West High School in Cincinnati.
"We were all so excited when that ball went through the hoop," West Virginia Thunder coach Larry Lambert said. "We started going crazy. I was hugging people I didn't even know."
West Virginia Thunder trailed throughout the contest, but Huntington's Mychal Johnson hit a shot with 12 seconds left to tie the game 50-50.
The Pistols were going to sit on the ball and chew clock for one final shot, but the basketball bounced off the leg of a player and out of bounds, giving West Virginia Thunder one final possession with three seconds remaining.
Lambert called a timeout to set up the play and Rizzi's shot hit net as the buzzer sounded, setting off a frenzied celebration after West Virginia Thunder knocked off the heavily-favored defending national champions.
Heading into the contest, the Pistols from Atlanta had breezed through the competition en route to the championship.
Meanwhile, the West Virginia Thunder had endured a pair of tough games on Tuesday to advance to the title matchup.
"Coming into this, we had won by four points (over Tennessee's Team Pride) and one point (over All Iowa Attack)," Lambert said. "We played so many close games that our girls learned to step up in big games. The girls pulled it off."
Kathryn Westbeld led the Thunder with 17 points and 17 rebounds while Johnson added 11 points. Rizzi had nine points.
For the tournament, West Virginia Thunder finished 9-0 en route to earning the AAU team's first-ever national title. Lambert said that before Wednesday, the closest his teams had come was a third-place finish in 1992 when Laura Meadows and Brittany Scarberry were playing.
In addition to Rizzi, Johnson and Westbeld, team members include Jenna Burdette, Griffin Dempsey, Terra Stapleton, Kelli Harrison, Jordan Parker, Krista Maynard, Sidney Pell, Madison Rigsby and McKenzie Butler.
WV THUNDER 7 11 15 20 -- 53: Catherine Westbeld 17, Mychal Johnson 11, Brittani Rizzi 9, Jenna Burdette 7, Griffin Dempsey 5, Terra Stapleton 4, Kelli Harrison 2.
GEORGIA PISTOLS 12 9 15 14 -- 50: Sydni Means 2, Ayanna Mitchell 11, Asia Durr 14, Keimairra Haylock 3, Jasmine Carter 4, Catherine Powell 10, Brianna Cummings 3.