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.