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'Dogs go in under radar

March 19, 2003|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

A season removed from lofty expectations, Martinsburg's boys basketball team finds itself exactly where it was last year - the West Virginia state tournament.

Moving on from the Kevin Pittsnogle era, the Bulldogs will return to Charleston, W.Va. on Thursday to face Spring Valley - the state's No. 1-ranked team in Class AAA - at 11:45 a.m. in a quarterfinal matchup at the Charleston Civic Center.

With Pittsnogle, a 6-foot-10 center who just completed his freshman season at West Virginia University, Martinsburg was the favorite to win the state championship last year. But the Bulldogs were stunned by Riverside 56-52 in the quarterfinals, bringing a 21-5 season to a bitter end.

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"A lot of last year was self-imposed pressure, and the expectations were very high," Bulldogs coach Dave Rogers said. "One thing we talked about this year is to respect our opponent. I think the kids learned a valuable lesson about that last year. ... The talk was (we're) gonna win it before we even go down there, and kids read that and hear it.

"We haven't had all that this year, and our kids have gone above the expectations. They've been an enjoyable group to watch."

This year's Bulldogs lack one shining star, but have made up for it with three juniors - Durrell Johnson, Jeff Horst and Brandon Barrett - who combine their unique styles into a team approach that has Martinsburg (17-4) riding high once again.

Johnson, a swingman, is the most explosive of the three and Martinsburg's leading scorer (16.8 points per game during the regular season). He's capable of making the perimeter shot as well as driving strong to the basket and playing above the rim.

"When Durrell is playing well, he is capable of taking over a game, he is that talented," Rogers said.

Horst, a center, has picked up much of the duties that fell on Pittsnogle's shoulders inside, and has held his own, averaging 13.3 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.

"He's very fundamentally sound making his low post moves," Rogers said. "Midway through the year, he was really shooting the ball, really consistent. He took a little lull there, took a little dip, and now I think he's coming back at the right time. We're gonna need him to hit that jump shot if we're successful."

Barrett, a point guard who set numerous receiving records on the football field this past fall, is the quarterback for the Bulldogs on the court. He's improved his all-court game, averaging 13.3 points, 5.4 assists and 2.9 steals.

"He's a catalyst on our team," Rogers said. "We have to have him on the floor. The improvement from last year to this year is phenomenal. ... His ability to lead by example and with his passing has really been tremendous for us.

"The chemistry of this team is very unique in the fact that "team" is the word. I don't have kids asking to see scorebooks, asking to see stats - they don't care about that. It's a close-knit bunch of young men. ... Good players don't win championships, good teams win championships."

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