Still one game from clinching first outright title since 1989 –
By Mark Carpenter –
It was one busy night on Friday, Feb. 2 at West Union High School- Pee-Wee Night, Senior Night, and of course, the opportunity for something to happen that had not happened in 29 basketball seasons. With a win over cross-county rival North Adams on Friday night, the Dragons would sew up at least a share of the big school division title in the Southern Hills Athletic Conference, a crown that has not been bestowed on a West Union team since 1989.
With so much at stake, so many outside distractions, and a gymnasium packed to the gills with fans of both sides, the Dragons took care of business on the hardwood, breaking open a tight game in the fourth quarter to get past the Green Devils 54-41 and clinch their share of the SHAC crown. Not bad for a team that was picked by the SHAC coaches to finish last in the conference.
“They picked us last and I didn’t sleep very well that night, and we went right to work the next morning,” said West Union’s first-year head coach Greg Himes. “These kids are now getting what they deserved, they’re the ones doing all the hard work.”
Friday night was the third meeting of the season between West Union and North Adams and the previous two had been tough, grind-it-out wins for the Dragons. The latest tussle was nothing less, with the visiting Devils taking care of their own business early. Scoring on their opening two possessions and later getting a three-pointer from point guard Elijah Young, the visitors jumped to a 9-2 lead midway through the first period.
The Dragons bounced back on a Zane Kingsolver jumper and a steal and score from Bowan Tomlin, and then their own three-ball from Elijah McCarty, but a second Young trey and a basket by Michael Gill gave the Devils a 16-11 advantage after one period of action.
A low-scoring second stanza began with a Tomlin jumper and two free throws by Ryan Rothwell that pulled West Union within one, but a 6-0 North Adams run made it 22-15 Devils. The two teams continued to trade punches as the Dragons got a Kingsolver bucket and a steal and layup from Eli Fuller, and then two more Rothwell free tosses in the final minute and at the intermission, the North Adams lead had shrunk to 24-21.
The halftime break sometimes refreshes the two teams, but on Friday it seemed to put their offenses in the deep freeze. The two teams came out of the locker room ice cold as the third quarter began, combining to miss nearly a dozen shots before a Kingsolver jumper at the 5:35 mark finally broke the ice. The first North Adams points of the second half came when Ryan Shupert nailed a three from the top of the key to put his team up 27-23. Two buckets by Kingsolver were answered by a short jumper from the Devils’ Colt Shumaker. A put back bucket by Austin McCormick with 2:30 to go in the third kept North Adams up two, but the Dragons answered at the one minute mark with a three-pointer by Rothwell that gave West Union its first lead of the game at 32-31.
The large contingent of West Union faithful had waited all night for their team to make a late run like they had done many times before this season, and that run came in the first four minutes of the final period, when the Dragon defense allowed just a Dylan Ison trey for the Devils while tallying two baskets by Fuller and the a McCarty three and suddenly the home team was on top 41-34. After a Shumaker free throw, McCarty scored again, followed by a North Adams turnover that ended in a Rothwell basket, followed by a McCarty trey from deep in the corner that brought the home crowd to a frenzy and gave their boys a 48-35 lead with 3:15 to play.
From then on, it was cruise control for the home side, as their lead was big enough to overcome the fact that they didn’t score a field goal over the final three minutes. Pairs of free throws by Fuller and McCarty provided the final cushion in a 54-41 West Union win, the “W” that put the Dragons at the top of the SHAC for good.
“Our guys got in a little hole tonight, but we fought back through that adversity especially on defense,” said Coach Himes. “They make this old coach a little nervous but not too nervous because I have faith in these kids.”
“These kids have had a lot of success in other sports and that has carried over to this basketball season and these kids are making me look good.”
West Union had the chance to win the title outright and post their 10th conference win of the season on Saturday night, but stumbled at home and lost 76-68 in overtime to the Lynchburg Mustangs. Big nights by Fuller and Kingsolver were not enough to overcome 31 points by Lynchburg’s Eric Mclaughlin as the Mustangs played spoiler. Now, for the Dragons to clinch outright, a number of combinations could work, losses by Eastern Brown and Ripley, or a win on Feb. 16 by the Dragons in their final conference game of the year, ironically a trip to Lynchburg.
The win over North Adams was the 10th in a row for the Dragons, with that streak snapped the next night, and after the weekend of action West Union stands 9-3 in the conference and 13-4 overall. The loss Friday dropped North Adams to 3-7 in the SHAC, 7-9 overall, but the Devils bounced back on Saturday night to post their eighth win of the season, 67-29 on the road at Huntington.
In Friday’s victory, McCarty led the Dragons with 17 points, with Kingsolver adding 10, Rothwell 9, and Fuller 8. The Devils placed two players in double figures, led by Ison with 11 with McCormick adding 10.
16 8 7 10 –41
11 10 11 22 –54
N. Adams (41): Shupert 1 2-2 5, Ison 5 0-0 11, E. Young 3 0-0 8, Shumaker 1 1-2 3, Gill 2 0-0 4, McCormick 5 0-2 10, Team 18 3-6 41.
W. Union (54): Rothwell 2 4-4 9, Fuller 3 2-2 8, Vogler 3 0-0 6, McCarty 6 2-2 17, Tomlin 2 0-0 4, Kingsolver 5 0-2 10, Team 21 8-11 54.
N. Adams (4): Shupert 1, Ison 1, E. Young 2
W. Union (4): Rothwell 1, McCarty 3–
Things are going to start happening to me now.”