By Stephen Smoot
Basketball coaches, especially late in the season, talk about “trap games.” Teams with big postseason dreams run across an opponent who has struggled, but improved – a team with enough heart to beat any given team on any given day.
In essence Pendleton County, who was on a five game winning streak and who had won seven of their last eight, met a very determined and motivated opponent Saturday in Pocahontas County.
The Wildcats took the tipoff and opened the game strong. Ana Young scored her 400th point of the season 13 seconds into the game by hitting a 10-foot baseline jump shot. Gabby DePue picked up where she left off at Union, dominating the middle with big defensive plays. She blocked her first shot only 40 seconds into the contest.
Scoring came at a premium in the first quarter. Both teams brought tremendous energy to defensive play and took several turnovers from each other. Avery Townsend, who had 21 steals on the year, swiped her first with almost a minute gone. Her lead pass to Young led to that player drawing a foul and completing two free throws to put her team up 4-2.
Almost 40 seconds later, Townsend hit her 23rd three-pointer of the year.
Young seemed to often steal the ball at will during the game and came into it with 62 on the season. Midway through the first quarter, with the team struggling to score, she stole the ball from Pocahontas County three times in 30 seconds.
The rest of the quarter saw Young and Townsend working to stay ahead of the Warriors. Long range shots, however, pulled them even at 11 by the end of the quarter.
Over the first half of the second quarter, the defenses still throttled each other’s offenses. Young picked the Warriors’ pockets twice in the first minute while Jenna Smith broke up a fast break with a block near the basket. Pocahontas County countered by turning big defensive plays into layups.
Additionally, the home team played a very physical game to try to disrupt the visitors. They used aggressive picks to attempt to wear down point guards Townsend and Nataley Hedrick while helping their star, Olivia Vandevander, find scoring opportunities.
The Warriors crowd responded to their 6-10 team giving their best and playing even with the heralded Wildcats. After a Young three put the Wildcats ahead 14-13, Pocahontas County hit two layups in 10 seconds to take a 15-14 lead. Jameigh Miller took a steal coast to coast for a layup, but was answered by two straight deep two-point shots by Pocahontas County to take the lead again at 20-19.
Just when the Warrior home crowd seemed sure that this might be a close game throughout, Pendleton County shifted gears. With three minutes left, DePue deflected a pass intended for the post. Young then hit a three-point shot followed by a coast-to-coast drive in which she beat three defenders to score. Another DePue block with two minutes left sparked a fast break that ended with a Townsend layup at the other end.
In just three minutes, a 20-19 deficit turned into a 30-19 lead. It happened that fast.
Just as at Union, improved rebounding led to big plays. Pocahontas County had a height advantage across the board, particularly among the guards. Work on the offensive boards once again helped Pendleton County to manufacture points inside when the outside shooting sometimes went cold. With 1:37 left, Lizzie Alt put an offensive rebound back for a score to push the lead to 33-19. She then disrupted a pass to the post to shut down another Warrior possession.
Pendleton County put an exclamation mark on the second quarter in the last 11 seconds. Young stole the ball and quickly found the basket for a layup. Then, with three seconds remaining, Townsend pulled off the exact same magic. The Warriors left the court in shock, seeing their slender lead disappear in a 14-0 run.
In the second half, the Wildcats started in a full court man to man press to put the game away quickly. The Warriors, however, also came out of the half just as determined to keep the game from slipping entirely out of their hands. It took a minute and a half for either team to hit a shot and that came from a running one hand shot by Pocahontas County. Almost a minute later, Townsend answered with a steal and coast to coast drive for a layup.
Offensive rebounding put away any hopes that Pocahontas County had of climbing back into the game. At the 2:50 mark, Miller converted an offensive rebound into a layup to put the lead at 42-21. DePue did the same a minute later after three straight offensive rebounds and put backs failed to end up back in the basket. With 1:22 left in the third, Miller once again outworked the Warriors, pulled down a rebound, and laid it back in.
Even with the big lead, the Wildcats continued to stifle the Pocahontas County offense. Coach Micah Bailey had pulled his team out of the press once the lead looked secure, but Pocahontas County still struggled. Hedrick, pesky on defense all night, hit a 10-foot shot to open scoring. Shortly after, Alt found DePue for an open shot that built the lead to 52-21.
Two minutes later, Julia Mongold drove the lane, scored a layup and drew a foul. She hit the shot, completing the old fashioned three-point play. Great effort on the boards continued until the end of the game for the Wildcats, despite the score. Madison Arbaugh worked for two rebounds while Kiera Heavener grabbed an offensive rebound in the final minutes. Smith closed scoring with a drive to the middle and six foot pull up shot to set the final at 59-30.
The Wildcats traveled to Lewis County on Wednesday and will host Petersburg at 6:30 p.m. today and Moorefield at noon on Saturday.
Sectional play begins next week. Pocahontas County and Tygarts Valley are scheduled to play Feb. 22. The winner of that game will advance to play the Lady Wildcats on Feb. 24, at home.