By Stephen Smoot
Coming off strong wins against Pocahontas County and Tygarts Valley, Pendleton County played their third game in three days during a stretch that sees them in five games in six days. Inclement weather in January forced a number of rescheduled games, requiring the Wildcats to play an unusually packed set.
The Wildcats took the fight to Petersburg in their last outing, falling behind early, but outscoring them over the next three quarters. Though never threatened, coaches and players for the Vikings brought heightened intensity, determined to not permit an upset.
Petersburg took the opening tip and hit a three-point shot to commence scoring in the game. Last week, the Vikings established a commanding lead at the start. This time, the Wildcats brought more aggression on defense to start.
Avery Townsend, who continues to attack the opposition effectively on both ends of the court, dribbled in, then freed herself with a step back move and hit a 15-foot jump shot. Petersburg hit a layup, but the Wildcats responded as Susan Vincell took a pass, split two defenders, hit a layup, and drew a foul.
The Vikings went on an 11 to two run, but Townsend responded at the 2:10 point with an eight-foot jump shot after Jameigh Miller fired a pass to her from her knees. Teams have keyed on Townsend on the outside, resulting in fewer scoring opportunities for her, but opening up more big play chances for others.
With 1:25 left in the first, Jessica Parker lofted a baby hook to cut the lead to 18-10. Two free throws from Townsend cut it to six, but the Vikings hit two free throws to set the score at 20-12.
Once again, Pendleton County responded. Nataley Hedrick, known as a fierce and feisty rebounder and defender, hit a 10-foot baseline shot to once again put the Petersburg lead at six.
It was the defense, however, that made the difference in the first half. While not forcing as many turnovers, the Wildcats still made the Vikings work for shots and scores. In the second quarter, however, the Viking shooters heated up. They hit a trio of three pointers in the frame. Jenna Smith responded with a three at the 2:25 mark with Townsend gliding in for a layup shortly thereafter.
The Vikings pushed out to a 40-21 lead, their final score a three-point basket with three seconds remaining in the half.
Fatigue played a role in the Petersburg onslaught. Pendleton County limited the Vikings while playing their man defense. The toll of so many games crammed into so few days and the quick pace of the game dictated that the Wildcats try to conserve the energy of their players, sometimes by dropping into a zone defense.
When the Wildcats played on offense, the Petersburg press initially gave Pendleton County more trouble. As the game progressed, however, the Wildcats grew more comfortable in using precise passing to break down the press and get the ball across the center line. It was just another example of how one can watch this young team learn, adapt, and grow in real time during a game.
Such lessons stick with a team.
Wildcat players also showed the patience to use the pass to find open shots near the basket. With 5:54 left in the third, Julia Mongold fired a pass to a cutting Townsend that resulted in a layup. Later, Townsend executed a give and go play with Parker that put her on the line. With 1:10 left in the third, Smith picked up another assist as she passed the ball to Townsend under the basket. She hit the shot and drew a foul.
The game ended with Petersburg winning 79-50. While the Vikings nearly doubled their margin over the first game, Pendleton County played better in this match up. At no point until the final few minutes did Petersburg play as if they felt the lead was secure. Pendleton County showed more on offense and defense than they did in the first game.
And, as always, regardless of opponent or score, the Wildcats brought the fight until the final seconds.
The Wildcats travel to East Hardy Friday and host Moorefield on senior night Feb. 6.