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Merica's Hunch was on the mark

March 08, 2005|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

Ben Merica had a premonition.

Minutes after Hedgesville's girls basketball team booked a return trip to Charleston, W.Va., for the state tournament with a 52-34 victory over Hampshire in the regional final last Thursday, Merica predicted the Eagles would likely face Parkersburg South in the first round.

He was right. When the brackets were announced Friday morning, it revealed what Merica suspected - Hedgesville's path toward the Class AAA state title will begin with Parkersburg South at 11:15 Wednesday morning at the Charleston Civic Center.

"I think our matchup will be the best of the first round," Merica said Thursday. "We will probably be the fourth seed and somebody like Parkersburg South will be the fifth seed, and that would be a great matchup."

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The Eagles have plenty of weapons on offense, led by versatile point guard Miranda Reed. Excelling at both ends of the floor, Reed led Hedgesville in scoring (14.8 points per game), assists (5.7) and steals (3.0) - numbers aided by the fact that Reed didn't have to carry the entire load.

"We have many people that can all play, many people who can step up for us," Reed said following Hedgesville's victory over Hampshire.

Samantha Guell came on strong in the second half of the season and led the team in rebounding (8.1) while finishing second in scoring (13.2) and steals (2.9). She's a 38-percent shooter from 3-point range, and Merica would like to see her be more aggressive looking for her shot.

"She isn't selfish enough," Merica said Thursday. "She is as pure a shooter as I've ever seen. Sometimes, she doesn't want to take shots."

Jennie Finafrock (10.7 points, 5.5 rebounds) adds depth inside, while Ashton Butler (10.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.9 steals) has bounced back from an injury earlier this season to bolster Hedgesville's attack.

It was Hedgesville's defense which made the difference against Hampshire in the regional final. The Eagles held Hampshire to 13-for-38 shooting and forced 23 turnovers.

"Defense wins games," Reed said. "We're just fortunate we have an offense where we can score points, but the key is our defense. We're going to have to play great defense at states if we want to win."

Merica believes the Eagles are capable of playing better, and pointed to their own turnovers - 14 against Hampshire - as an area of concern.

"Our biggest key is we have to handle the ball," Merica said. "We have to keep our turnovers in single digits."

Last year's trip to states ended memorably, if not favorably, for Hedgesville. The Eagles ran into a buzzsaw named Alexis Hornbuckle - the Women's Basketball Coaches Association 2004 High School Player of the Year and McDonald's All-Star Game MVP currently playing for Pat Summitt and Tennessee - who had 38 points, 30 rebounds and nine assists to lead South Charleston past the Eagles 79-47 in the semifinals.

Hedgesville doesn't have to worry about running into Hornbuckle again, and the Eagles feel better equipped for this year's trip to states.

"I think (last year) will give us a feel for what to do preparation-wise," Merica said.

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