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Eagles can't take it easy in run for state title

March 07, 2006|by DAN KAUFFMAN

It's no surprise that Hedgesville's girls basketball team will open play in their third straight West Virginia Class AAA state tournament appearance on Wednesday morning at the Charleston Civic Center.

Expectations have been high for the Eagles, as experienced a squad as one will find in the Tri-State area. Senior starters Miranda Reed, Samantha Guell and Jennie Finafrock have met all those expectations, and now their sights are on achieving the unexpected this weekend.

"Really, what we want to do, our big goal is to get to Saturday night and play in the championship game," Hedgesville coach Ben Merica said Monday. "That would be a step ahead of where we've ever been. It's a tough row to hoe, but it's something we can attain if we play well."

The Eagles enter the eight-team tournament as the fifth seed and play fourth-seed Greenbrier East on Wednesday at 11:15 a.m. Should Hedgesville pass that test, it would likely face top-seed Morgantown on Friday at 5:30 p.m. for the right to play for the title.

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"The only team that has beaten them was out of Cincinnati, and that team is supposedly in the top 20 in the nation," Merica said. "They'll be a tough team if we get to play them."

Hedgesville has all the weapons it needs to pose a serious threat in Charleston. Reed, Guell and junior Ashton Butler were all Apple Valley League first-team selections; Finafrock made the second team and junior Jennifer Hoffman was an honorable mention selection as the Eagles went undefeated in league play.

It all starts with Reed, the point guard who effectively runs the show - and on more than a few occasions done so with flair and style. She averages 11.7 points, 4.9 assists and 3.1 steals per game.

"She's been in that spot for four years, and she knows what we want out of her," Merica said. "She's a headstrong young lady, and because she pushes forward and takes on challenges, she makes good things happen for us. She has the ability to penetrate down the lane, and for a diminutive girl, she's been able to finish against taller opponents."

Guell (11.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.7 steals, 1.5 blocks) has made strides over the years, developing from an outside shooter to an all-around contributor on both ends of the floor.

"Samantha came into our program with one definite skill, to put the ball in the hole from outside," Merica said. "She's developed the ability to put the ball on the floor and get herself open, and this year she's taken the ball inside more aggressively. In past years, she was more timid in there, but now she takes it in, goes up strong and often gets fouled and goes to the stripe, where she's been a good foul shooter for us."

Finafrock (8.6 points, 4.1 rebounds) serves as the Eagles' "enforcer," in Merica's words.

"Jennie has been a stabilizing force in the middle for the last two years," Merica said. We kind of call her our enforcer. She'll make sure she gets her body on people, and she's not afraid of the physical part of the game."

Butler (10.8 points, 2.2 steals) has provided an offensive spark at times for Hedgesville.

"For two years, she's been a steady player for us, and she's been more involved this year and had some big games when we needed her," Merica said. "She had 18 against Hampshire, and if she hadn't, we may not have made it here."

Hoffman (7.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.5 steals) is Hedgesville's "best athlete," according to Merica, while sixth-girl Lauren Ashton and reserve forward Ciera Nicholson will also be called on to provide quality minutes.

In order for the Eagles to go where they haven't gone before - the state championship game - they'll need everybody to play up to their potential.

"It'd be a wonderful opportunity for us to come together and play to the best of our abilities, which is what we have to do when playing quality teams," Merica said. "We hope all the hard work the girls put in ... will all come back and pay dividends when we need it."

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