By Stephen Smoot
According to the National Center Educational Statistics, Keyser High School has 701 students.
Pendleton County has 385.
According to the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission, the governing body for state high school athletics, for the purposes of basketball, Pendleton County is a single A squad. Keyser is triple A.
Keyser under coach Scott Furey, now 11-6 on the year, also has 13 upperclassmen, six of whom are seniors. Pendleton County enjoys tremendous effort and contributions from sophomores and freshmen in addition to juniors and seniors.
One had to throw out all of those facts and figures, however, when the Golden Tornadoes stormed in to take on the Wildcats. It took a buzzer beater for Keyser to defeat Pendleton County in the first game of the year and both teams have improved substantially since the beginning of December.
Keyser controlled the opening tip and scored on its first possession, working the ball inside for an easier shot near the basket. That remained their strategy for much of the game, despite Jacob Beachler giving one of his most dominant defensive performances of the season so far. He blocked two Keyser shots within five seconds of each other only a minute into the contest.
In the early minutes, Chase Owens helped the Wildcats keep pace with the visitors, driving hard to the basket for layups at the 6:38 and 4:57 marks, pulling his team within four with his second shot. Both Owens and Clayton Kisamore drove the ball hard against the Keyser defense every time they touched the ball, their aggressiveness leading to big plays all night.
Defense dominated the game as both teams turned mistakes into points. Keyser used turnovers to build a 10-6 lead halfway through the quarter, but a layup by Kisamore and a beautiful high arcing hook by Beachler helped the Wildcats stay close. The quarter closed when Dustin Vandevander worked off of a solid pick by Dusty Smith to hit a three-point shot, ending the quarter with a 16-13 Keyser lead.
The second quarter saw Keyser quickly extend their lead to 21-13, but, as he did all night, Kisamore provided the answer. He drew a foul on a shot attempt from 19 feet, then hit all three free throws. Kisamore then beat three Keyser defenders on a fast break to score a layup to bring his team within three again at the 5:48 mark.
Pendleton County used patience, passing, and picks to pry openings in the Keyser defense. Owens used a screen from Beachler to hit from 17 feet to pull within four points at the 4:16 mark. As the game progressed, Kisamore put more of the offense on his back. He bulled his way up the floor on fast breaks, used his ball handling skills to dance around the defense to find shots close to the basket, found his teammates when they came open, and disrupted Keyser often with his defense.
The second half started with Pendleton County facing a six-point deficit, 31-25. Kisamore took a Beachler pass for a layup at the seven minute mark, then a minute later took a precision lead pass from Owens to cut the lead to 36-32. Owens then got fouled trying to put back an offensive rebound, but made both shots.
Keyser’s experienced and athletic guards used strength and quickness to stay just ahead of the pursuing Wildcats. They used dribble drives to break down the defense, create mismatches, and find open shots against a tough and active Wildcat defense.
Kisamore attacked the Golden Tornadoes from the outset, grabbing a steal only 14 seconds into the half. Shortly thereafter, Keyser hit a three-pointer to extend their lead to 34-25. Kisamore at the 7:01 mark answered with a layup off of a Beachler assist. Later, Kisamore took a precise outlet from Owens to drive in for a fast break layup to cut the lead to four. Owens also later got fouled trying to put back an offensive rebound, but hit both free throws to set the score at 38-34, Keyser still in the lead.
The quarter progressed much like this with Keyser keeping the Wildcats at arms-length as Pendleton County players gave their best to remain within striking distance. The quarter ended with Beachler blocking two shots in the last seven seconds, but Keyser maintaining a 51-40 lead.
Pendleton County started the fourth in a full court man-to-man press. Smith, always wolverinelike on defense, hit a three almost 40 seconds into the quarter and followed that with steal at the midway point in the fourth. Pendleton County never fell short on effort or belief.
The home team kept coming close, even within five with only 1:34 left to play. Shortly thereafter, however, the Wildcats had to start fouling to extend the game. Keyser replied with machine-like efficiency at the line. The final score of 59-51 did not reflect how close the game was and how hard both teams fought for the victory.
Though, or perhaps because, the two teams gave such intense effort in a very physical game, both head coaches went to the opposing locker rooms to offer words of praise to the other teams and their coaching staffs. This level of class and sportsmanship is as welcome as it is rare in modern competitive sports.
The Wildcats faced Union on Wednesday and will host Tygarts Valley on Monday and Frankfort on Tuesday. They will finish regular season play on Feb. 23 at Moorefield.
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