Boys basketball: Hurricane making strides
HURRICANE - It looks as though the Mountain State Athletic Conference has a new player in the hunt for a conference boys basketball championship.
Though Hurricane sustained its first loss of the season by falling 83-66 to Beckley (2-0) on Tuesday, second-year Coach Lance Sutherland said the Redskins (3-1) are making gains on a path he laid out when taking over the job in 2011.
"We know where we have to be now if we want to make it to the State Tournament," Sutherland said after the loss.
"They're probably one of the best, or one of the top three teams in the state: Martinsburg and South Charleston, then probably them."
Hurricane trailed by one in the third quarter Tuesday, and by four entering the fourth quarter led by the 20-point performance of 6-foot-1 junior reserve guard Garrett DeFries.
"These games show you where you're at and show you what you have to work on," Sutherland said. "Like I said, I'm not disappointed we lost. We were in the game. They kicked up the pressure when we got tired, and that's when it changed.
"I think we're good enough to make it to Charleston, but we've got to beat teams like that, and in places like Logan. We go to Parkersburg on Thursday, and then we play Winfield right after Christmas, so it really doesn't get any easier for us."
Hurricane has road wins over Logan and Capital to its credit, and plays the Big Reds (0-2) tonight.
Sutherland said improved depth has been a boon to the Redskins program, which also benefits from the fact that only one player on the varsity roster - junior Duane Ruggier - played football in 2012.
"He's been our sixth man," Sutherland said of DeFries. "He played all JV last year and just works his butt off in practice. We can go eight or nine deep if we want to, and he picked it up tonight."
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VIC HERBERT might disagree with Sutherland's assessment of South Charleston (1-0).
"We're average," Herbert said of the Black Eagles Tuesday.
South Charleston took on rival George Washington (1-1) at the Charleston Civic Center on Wednesday night as part of a girls/boys doubleheader.
"We're deep, but we've got a lot to work on if we want to be good," Herbert said.
South Charleston played its season opener Dec. 15 at Princeton, getting a 59-57 win. That stands as the Tigers' (2-1) lone loss. They play at Nitro tonight.
SC junior center Kevin Williams, who was the Daily Mail Kanawha Valley Rookie of the Year in 2011, did not score at Princeton. Herbert said Williams battled foul trouble for most of the game before fouling out.
"Williams, (Trevond) Reese and A.D. (Cunningham) didn't play at all in the second quarter that game because they were all in foul trouble," Herbert said.
"It's good that we're deep, because we'd probably have gotten beat."
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BECKLEY SENIOR point guard Andrew Johnson had nine assists - six in the second half - during the Flying Eagles' win at Hurricane. His stat line, which also included 18 points, six rebounds and a steal, wasn't enough to keep Coach Ron Kidd from wanting a little more in the way of consistency.
"He's good but, he kind of plays point guard like he's playing football, you know," Kidd said. "He's a little too eager sometimes to go at somebody when it's best to pull back."
Johnson was a two-time Class AAA All-State football selection for Coach John Lilly's Flying Eagle football team. He was named as a punter his junior year, then as a defensive back in 2012. He quarterbacked the team to consecutive playoff appearances as its leading rusher and passer.
In Beckley's 2-0 start to the basketball season, Johnson is averaging 14.5 points. The Eagles beat perennial Class AA power Wyoming East 82-56 in their opener Dec. 11.
Johnson displayed some self-criticism as well after the win. He said Beckley could have done a better job of attacking Hurricane's 2-3 zone, and that the Eagles needed to improve their patience on offense. He added that the team's offensive rebounding ability has been key early this season.
"Everybody hits the boards," Johnson said. "You've got to be tough to get rebounds, especially offensive rebounds. You've got to be able to give yourself those second-chance points."
Beckley had 52 rebounds in the win, while Hurricane had 28.
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A HIGH school oddity has developed this year in that there was no preseason rankings of the state's top teams. The Associated Press operates the boys and girls basketball polls for West Virginia, unlike in football, whose poll is operated by the Daily Mail.
The first rankings of the season will appear the week of Jan. 7.