CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The graduation of a four-year starter and the resulting reliance on a sophomore as team leader is rarely a concoction for a successful basketball season, but Poca is doing just fine.
"We've been blessed. The Good Lord's blessed us. We've been fortunate to have a lot of things go our way so far this year," Dots Coach Allen Osborne said last week after Poca (11-1) edged visiting Nicholas County (6-6).
Poca enters the week ranked second in the Associated Press Class AA poll, and has won nine games in a row, its longest winning streak in two years. The Dots won their first 15 games in 2010-11 and finished 24-4 by losing in the State Tournament's semifinals to Scott.
They were 13-12 last year, led by 2009 Kanawha Valley Freshman of the Year Clinton Parsons, a center who had started his entire prep career and led the Dots in scoring as a senior. Waiting in the wings was then-freshman Noah Frampton, a two-sport standout - he also excels in baseball - who has been pivotal to the Dots' hot start.
Frampton's buzzer-beater against Scott on Jan. 11 beat the then-top ranked Skyhawks 40-39, and sent Poca's Cardinal Conference rival into a tailspin that only ended after they had lost four consecutive games.
But while Frampton has led the team in scoring, it is the uncommon depth of the team that has perhaps figured most heavily in its strong start.
Junior forward Jacob Payne, the Dots' quarterback in football season, said practice sessions have been more intense this season, Osborne's first since retiring as a teacher at the school.
"We practice five-on-five, and you don't get any breaks," Payne said. "When you're in practice it's not like 'You're the starters and they're the bench players.' It's all the same. It doesn't matter who you are.
"We go hard. We have to."
Payne's reference that they "have" to practice hard is a reflection of the Dots' actual roster depth. Poca has just 13 players on its overall rosters. That number includes three freshmen.
"They just go out there, play hard, show a lot of guts and find a way to win," Osborne said.
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RIVERSIDE'S STRONG start to Coach Dusty Herscher's second season has evaporated in a string of recent losses. The Warriors began the year with wins in four of their first five games, but lost Saturday to Class A No. 3 Tug Valley (9-2) in the Hatfield/McCoy Shootout in Williamson.