Jefferson persevered through 'Dog days of winter

March 13, 2007|by DAN KAUFFMAN

Jefferson boys basketball coach Bob Starkey hopes his team learns something every time it takes the court.

As it turned out this season, the Cougars learned the most from their four measuring-stick games against rival Martinsburg.

After falling to the Bulldogs the first two times the teams played, Jefferson found the answer and turned away Martinsburg the last two times, including a 71-59 victory in the Region II Section 2 final that served as the springboard for the Cougars to reach this week's West Virginia Class AAA state tournament at the Charleston Civic Center.

Jefferson (24-4), the fourth seed, plays fifth-seed Bridgeport on Wednesday at 11:15 a.m.

"We try not to put great emphasis on regular-season games, but every now and then, there are pendulum games where you need to assert yourself," Starkey said. "We won those two games by double digits and really established ourselves and gained confidence."

The Bulldogs got the better of the Cougars at Martinsburg, 70-62, on Dec. 29 in the final of the Bulldogs' holiday tournament, then beat Jefferson again, 61-53, in the first of two regularly scheduled meetings seven days later, also at Martinsburg. Isaac Thornton scored 27 points in both games for the Bulldogs.


"After those two losses (to Martinsburg), it woke us up and made us realize we had to play hard," Cougars center Vance Hosby said.

Jefferson finally got the chance to host Martinsburg on Jan. 26, and the Cougars made it count, posting a 72-58 victory behind Hosby's 22 points and 14 rebounds that kick-started their surge to the state tournament.

"The first two times we played Martinsburg, a couple guys were real nervous," said point guard Ryland Newman, who has averaged 13.2 points, 7.9 assists and 3.1 steals this season. "When they came to our place, it was to our advantage in front of our crowd, and that helped us.

"That was a turning point for us. We felt in our souls we could not be beat after that."

Jefferson is 12-1 in its last 13 games, the only loss was a one-point setback on the road at Tuscarora on Feb. 19.

Hosby, who averages 19 points, 12.2 rebounds, 3.3 blocks and 1.9 steals per game, was at his best in the sectional tournament. He posted 20 points and 21 rebounds in a 60-58 nail-biter over Hedgesville in the semifinals, then had 22 points and 24 rebounds against the Bulldogs in the final.

"We're playing very well," Starkey said. "Against Martinsburg and Hedgesville (in the sectional playoffs), we didn't shoot great but we played with good energy and chiseled out a win. We're getting the effort."

Effort should not be an issue this week. Neither should motivation - never a problem when a state title is on the line, and even easier this year given the presence of top-seed Huntington and superstar O.J. Mayo, a USC recruit who averages 28.4 points per game.

Huntington will be the top story in Charleston this week no matter what happens - and should Jefferson get past Bridgeport, the Cougars likely will take dead aim at Mayo and company in the semifinals.

"I feel real good about our chances," Newman said. "I want to meet up with Huntington. It'd be a great challenge and I think we'd match up well with them."

"That's why we play the games," Starkey said. "There's no question they must be a super team. (But) I can't see these guys being scared."

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