Eagles run into hornets nest as Bulldogs roll with Cato

January 20, 2007|by JOHN O'BRIEN / Staff Correspondent

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Ask Martinsburg point guard Brandon Cato what keys his success on defense, and he's quick to mention his hands.

After Friday night, the Hedgesville Eagles won't argue.

Isaac Thornton scored 17 points, Xavier Peters added 14 and Cato and Company kept up the defensive pressure on the state's fourth-ranked Class AAA team on their way to a 59-49 win at the Martinsburg Fieldhouse.

The victory, coupled with a win over Jefferson, improved the Bulldogs to 2-0 in sectional play and puts them in the driver's seat for the sectional playoff bye.

Cato was a big reason for the win, scoring a season-high 11 points while helping to hold Hedgesville point guard Jordan Reed scoreless. He added four steals as the Bulldogs forced 21 turnovers - 10 in the first quarter.


"We cherish beating Hedgesville," Cato said. "They're our rival. If they beat us, they crowd their floor. If we beat them, we crowd our floor.

"We had to win tonight."

Using a quickness advantage that even Hedgesville coach Kelly Church conceded, the Bulldogs did just that.

And even when Cato wasn't looking for the ball, it still had a way of finding him.

When a Hedgesville spurt tied the game at 46-46 with three minutes remaining, Martinsburg's Aaron Crim tipped a rebound in the lane that landed in Cato's waiting hands. The 5-foot-10 junior immediately went up with it and hit the go-ahead shot.

With the same two-point margin a few possessions later, Thornton missed a 3-pointer that happened to bounce all the way to the left wing - right where Cato could grab it.

Later in the same possession, Thornton drove in for a layup that gave the Bulldogs a 50-46 cushion, part of a 12-0 game-clinching run that was capped by Thornton's free throw with 37.3 seconds left and highlighted by Peters' steal and three-point play.

Hedgesville scored only three points in the final three minutes, all on free throws. Only Michael Lopez stood out for the Eagles, registering 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting. Denver Effland added 10 but shot only 3 of 10 from the floor.

"Obviously, we didn't handle their full-court press very well. In the past we have, tonight we didn't. I give all the credit to Coach (Dave) Rogers and their kids. It was obviously part of their gameplan," Church said. "They're filled with athletes."

That athleticism is a big part of the sectional success Martinsburg has achieved so far. The Bulldogs also defeated Jefferson in another game that didn't count toward the sectional standings.

"That's us," Rogers said. "We have to play pressure, full-court man."

It paid off in the first quarter in the form of 10 turnovers as both teams struggled offensively. In the first 2:30 of the game, the teams combined for six missed shots, six turnovers and zero points.

In the second quarter, Cato came up with three steals in 2:19 that led to seven points. He took the first one in for a layup himself, then fed Thornton for a three-point play on the next one.

The third one he again took in himself, giving Martinsburg a 20-15 lead with five minutes until halftime.

The Bulldogs took a 28-25 lead to the locker room, then extended it to 42-37 in the third. Thornton scored eight points in the period, hitting a pair of 3-pointers. Cato's runner with 1:45 left in the third gave Martinsburg a seven-point lead, but the Eagles used a 9-2 run to grab a two-point lead.

It started with a bucket from Effland inside that closed the third-quarter scoring, then continued with Lopez scoring seven points in the first three minutes of the fourth to grab a 46-44 lead. Thornton tied it at 46-46 with a transition basket.

That's when the ball bounced into Cato's hands, just as it had all game.

"I told them that if we play defense, the offense will take care of itself," Rogers said. "And it did."

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