Eastern Panhandle proving powerful

January 04, 2008|By DAN KAUFFMAN

All one has to do to find where most of the best prep basketball is being played in the Tri-State this season is study the Super 7 polls for a few seconds.

Clearly, the Eastern Panhandle teams are doing something right.

Of the 14 teams in the Super 7 polls, eight call the Eastern Panhandle home - four in each poll. Eight of the 10 public high school teams in the Panhandle have records of 5-2 or better.

"We know Musselman and Jefferson and Martinsburg are all doing very well," Hedgesville boys coach Kelly Church said. "It says a lot about Panhandle basketball, and it shows if you don't show up and play, you can get beat. We don't fear anybody, but we respect everybody."

Let's take a closer look at the Panhandle, starting with the top-ranked and undefeated Eagles (7-0), who are led by J.R. Mayles (14.3 points, 5.8 rebounds per game), Denver Effland (12.7 points, 5.0 rebounds) and Maurice Newby (11 points, 8.3 rebounds).


Church's squads have always been known for their discipline and patience - and Hedgesville still knows how to take the air out of the ball if it benefits them, as the Eagles showed in a 32-13 victory over Hollidaysburg in their holiday tournament championship game. Hedgesville held Hollidaysburg scoreless in three of the four quarters.

"Defensively, we've never held a team scoreless for three quarters, it's one of those things that never happens," Church said. "Hollidaysburg is a good team, and to hold them scoreless for three quarters says a lot about our team's effort. We took care of the ball, played very patiently and came away with a good win against a good team."

This season, Hedgesville can pick the pace up, too.

"We were averaging about 74 points per game (before playing Hollidaysburg)," Church said. "We push the ball a lot more this year. We tend to play a little faster."

The Eagles will depart on Tuesday for Alaska for a three-day tournament, but first they'll hit the road today to face No. 5 Musselman (7-0), the Panhandle's other unbeaten boys team. While it's just another big game for Hedgesville, it's the biggest game the Applemen have played in years.

"We'd like to think every game is a big game," Church said. "As hard as our kids work and as much time as we put into it, I can't imagine any game not being a big game."

"Hedgesville's got an excellent team. They're big, they're strong, they defend very well and they have guys who can score," Musselman coach Derek Basile said. "It's a big test for us."

The Applemen's most recent victory was a 65-64 triumph over Sherando in Musselman's holiday tournament final. Diego Pons won it with a last-second shot in the paint, and is one of a host of Applemen who have played significant roles so far this season. Pons, Josh Walters, Morgan McDonald, J.D. Daniels and Jonathan Alvarez each have scored 13 or more points in a game.

"I think it's really been a team thing," Basile said. "We're playing well defensively, and offensively we're shooting high-percentage shots and scoring some points. We've had six or seven kids on different nights step up and score for us. We've had several guys rebound well, we're playing great team defense and getting good scoring balance."

If the matchup between Hedgesville and Musselman is the main event, the undercard - tonight's game between No. 3 Martinsburg (7-1) and No. 4 Jefferson (5-2) at Martinsburg - is as good as an undercard gets. The Bulldogs rallied from a 16-point deficit to stun the Cougars 61-60 in the Martinsburg tournament final.

"I think those (Panhandle rivalry) games are going to be tossups," Jefferson coach Bob Starkey said. "They're just too hard to call. Like our game with Martinsburg, I knew it would come down to the wire. We'll play them two, maybe three more times. It depends on who can carry momentum to the latter part of the season. Some teams will get better, some will tail off."

Isaac Thornton led the Bulldogs with 19 points in the victory over the Cougars, while Vance Hosby - Jefferson's centerpiece inside - also had 19 points and is a double-double threat every game.

"Vance is a big factor, obviously," Starkey said. "Dewey McDonald and Tyler Hester have been key for us, too. Dewey is our guard and he does everything - scores, rebounds, handles - and he's a tough defender. Tyler is our best defender - our stopper - and our second-best rebounder."

Leading the way on the girls side is No. 1 Jefferson (9-0), whose five seniors are providing leadership and focus as the Cougars have set their sights on qualifying for the state tournament.

"All of those (seniors), they have their heads on straight," Jefferson coach Peachie Diehl said. "They've been there, done that and they know what they want. Katie Danno, Alyssa Diehl, they're senior starters, they have a goal in mind and they know what they have to do to reach the goal."

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