By Stephen Smoot
It was one of those nights typical at the midway point in a basketball season where great teams are not playing in top form and have to manufacture plays to win the game. Great teams understand how to earn wins in these situations against talented opposition, even when the breaks seem to all be going against them.
The Wildcats won the tipoff to open the game. For the first minute and a half, the two squads traded turnovers and fouls while shooting ice cold while feeling each other out. East Hardy broke the drought at the 5:35 mark by hitting a 15-foot shot, followed closely by Ana Young who hit from that distance herself to tie the game.
Pendleton County employed a man-to-man press to start the game, which has generally frustrated opponents. East Hardy, however, ran press breakers that used deep passes to sprinting cutters to try and work their way behind the Wildcat defense. On occasion, such as at the 4:55 mark, they scored uncontested layups. More often, however, Pendleton County hustled back to block passes or disrupt shots.
Avery Townsend helped to spark the Wildcats toward the end of the first quarter with unflinching defense. At the 3:16 mark and again at 3:03, Townsend swiped the ball from an East Hardy player and drove the distance for a layup. The second score put Pendleton County up 8-6 and from that point on, the Wildcats led.
Scoring remained difficult for both teams in the second quarter as Pendleton County built its lead. East Hardy gifted some of the points by putting Young on the line, then subsequently committing a foul on a made Baylee Beachler layup. She made the free throw for an old fashioned three-point play to extend the lead to 17-9.
In addition to Townsend’s tough defense in the first half, Ashleigh Miller fought, hustled, and made solid plays on both offense and defense. The second quarter’s first action came from her aggressively tying up a Cougar to get the ball back for her team. She also blocked shots and grabbed steals to help keep East Hardy off balance.
A Townsend steal and layup gave the Wildcats a 22-13 lead with 49 seconds left in the half, which East Hardy countered with a steal and layup with the final seconds draining from the clock at the end.
Coach Micah Bailey adjusted by pulling his team out of the press, which restricted opportunities for the Cougars to score near the basket,
The third quarter opened with an East Hardy shot about five feet from the basket, pulling them to within five. In some games a five-point lead is nothing, but in this competition a five-point advantage deceptively felt like more of a 15-point spread. Just as Townsend attacked the ball in the first quarter and Miller in the second, Beachler led on defense in the third.
East Hardy tried to work a size advantage against Beachler for most of the quarter. She didn’t allow the Cougar post players to push her off the block, but instead used her athleticism to block shots, disrupt passes, and grab rebounds. As all efforts to score against Beachler came to naught, Young’s shooting suddenly became blazing hot.
At 4:21, Young hit a three-pointer coming off of a solid Gabby DePue pick. Almost two minutes later, she drilled a step back three to extend the lead to 30-22. Young scored the next basket off of a Beachler assist, followed by another Beachler steal.
The third quarter ended in spectacular fashion. Miller drove to the basket, shot, missed, wrestled away the offensive rebound, and found Young open from 10 feet. Young hit the shot at the end of third quarter action to extend the lead to 34-22.
Young continued to find the basket from long range in the fourth quarter. She hit four more three-pointers in the game, the second off of a Miller assist and the last one off of a Miller pick. Lizzie Alt also played a huge role in disrupting East Hardy, playing tight defense, grabbing steals, and rebounding well. Alt, Nataley Hedrick, and Jenna Smith also confounded the Cougars with steals coming from the players being in the right position and playing aggressively.
With two minutes left, Young drove hard to the basket. While doing so, she made a subtle ball fake that looked like she was about to dish the ball off. It confused the defender and opened the lane for Young to make a finger roll layup for her team’s final score of the game.
Pendleton County’s defense didn’t lose its fire after rolling up a 50-35 lead. Kiera Heavener came into the game to block a shot at the post as East Hardy kept struggling to close the gap. The Cougars closed to 50-39 in the last minute, but never seriously threatened.
The Lady Wildcats were scheduled to host Moorefield Wednesday night and will travel to Doddridge County on Friday.