By Stephen Smoot
When the Cougars from Baker came to Pendleton County in search of prey, they found the Wildcats the more worthy hunters. The near miss at Keyser and a big win at Frankfort in the past week buoyed the team as they hosted East Hardy. Relentless pressure and big plays sunk the Cougars.
The game started with an East Hardy steal and defense dominated the first stanza. Jacob Beachler sank a layup to score the first bucket after a minute had passed which East Hardy followed up with a three pointer at 6:35 left in the first. Five seconds later, Clayton Kisamore took a steal to the bucket to put his team up 4-3. With 5:15 left, East Hardy drained another three pointer to give them another slender lead at 6-4.
After a powerful Beachler block and a Kisamore putback of an offensive rebound to tie the game 6-6 with less than five minutes in the quarter, the Cougars never led again.
Although first quarter baskets were few, the Wildcats executed well in what some call “the little things.” Brayden Beachler, Jacob Beachler, and Kisamore got key offensive rebounds to keep their team in play. Dusty Smith and Kisamore racked up steals and Jacob Beachler’s height, athleticism, and skill on defense intimidated the Cougars near the basket any time they tried to score inside.
Josiah Kimble helped to carry the team offensively in the first quarter. With two minutes left, he launched a three pointer to put his team up 11-6. Then with 15 seconds left, Kimble wove through defenders to sink a dramatic old school style running one hander. Pendleton County led after one quarter 13-6. Also, Jacob Beachler in the waning minutes showed off his outside touch with a high arcing 17-footer.
In the second quarter, the lid came off the basket for Pendleton County, but remained firmly in place for the visiting Cougars. Although East Hardy blocked a layup attempt and hit two free throws in the first minute, the Wildcats spent the rest of their time crafting a lead. Kisamore opened up scoring for his team in the quarter with his first coast-to-coast drive and layup of the night, putting his team up 15-8.
East Hardy continued to try to score with the three ball, but after the first quarter struggled to hit from outside while finding inside buckets difficult as well. With just under six minutes to play, Jacob Beachler broke up an East Hardy fast break by siding in to take a charge.
Chase Owens also helped to apply pressure with a timely steal with just under four minutes left in the half. Another Kisamore coast-to-coast drive and layup put the Wildcats up 20-10. Owens then rebounded his own miss and dropped an entry pass to Kisamore who executed a post move and scored.
Additionally, when the Wildcats extended their halfcourt defense to the halfcourt line, it disrupted the Cougars’ ability to set up their offense and capped their offensive production. “We’ve been going over intensity,” Coahc Jeremy Bodkin said, “That was the thing that cost the game with Keyser.” He added that game preparation has also been strong, explaining that the “coaches get them where they need to be.”
At halftime, Pendleton County held an eight-point lead that seemed larger. East Hardy tried to seize momentum coming out of the half, hitting shots and forcing mistakes by the Wildcats, slowly eroding the lead. Bodkin called a timeout at 5:33 after East Hardy closed to 26-21.
After some urgent words from the coach, the Wildcats came back on the floor and shifted into another gear. Jacob Beachler hit a basket at 5:15, then blocked a shot 10 seconds later. Kimble then found Kisamore on a pass for an easy basket to put the Wildcats up 30-21.
One of the key elements of the Wildcats’ success comes from offensive unselfishness. The team consistently looks for the extra pass to find the best possible shot.
Pendleton County seemed to come at East Hardy in waves. The Cougars struggled to control the ball against the Wildcat press and the home team took full advantage. When the lead extended to 39-23 with less than two minutes in the quarter, East Hardy frustrations boiled over into a technical foul. The offense, fueled by aggressive pressure on defense, outscored the Cougars 21 to nine in the quarter to seize a 45-25 lead. The third quarter scoring closed with a Connor Armentrout assist to an Owens shot.
The fourth quarter started as the first did, with an East Hardy steal. That was the only similarity between the two. The Wildcats kept up their full court press for a time, due to the Cougars’ outside shooting ability that could erase a big lead quickly. Owens continued to contribute off the bench, fighting on the post for position, then drawing a foul as he made the layup. His added free throw put his team up 56-29.
Pendleton County kept their foot on the accelerator to the end. Armentrout scored on a coast-to-coast drive with 2:20 left, then Zykijah Wright dove to the floor to save a Wildcat possession. Dillon Smith drew a foul and hit two free throws with 1:18 left and Evan Teter’s assist to Owens ended the scoring at 66-34.
Bodkin said, “We didn’t take care of the ball in the first half, but we were better in the second.” He emphasized the team’s strong effort, saying that “we did a great job hustling.”
Kisamore led all scoring for both teams with 22. Kimble followed with 17, Jacob Beachler with 10, Owens with nine, and Dusty Smith, Brayden Beachler, Armentrout, and Dillon Smith each with two.