Even Hall of Fame coaches usually get off to a slow start in their first season with a new team. So it was last season for Head Coach Tim McClung and the Pocahontas County High School Warriors boys basketball team. The Warriors started off at 1-8, but turned things around in their final 12 games, when they went 6-6.
PCHS’s improved play has carried over into the new season, that opened last Wednesday night at Warrior Coliseum. The boys notched a 76-65 victory against a good Webster County squad – a team that beat them twice last year. Junior standout Cary Robertson led the team with 23 points, including four three-pointers. Sophomore Dalton Irvine dropped in 22 points and junior Stephen Mick added 19 for the Warriors. Mick snagged 16 rebounds and Dalton Irvine and Adam Irvine each grabbed eight rebounds.
The early season victory is good reason for fans to be excited, and two losses since that win are no reason for major concern. The Warriors played two very good teams on Friday and Saturday – at Pendleton County and at home against AAA Buckhanon-Upshur. Both games were hard-fought battles and the Warriors looked like a team that’s going to win a lot of games.
Robertson said the Warriors are far ahead of last year’s pace.
“We come together no matter what happens and we keep our heads up,” he said. “We’re way better than last year. Last season, we’d be losing, at this point, every game by 20 or more. Right now, we’ve won one game against Webster by 13. We lost a game to Pendleton by five or so, and lost this game by six.”
The Warriors had to deal with a quick turnaround on the weekend games. After playing in Franklin Friday night, the team had to play the big AAA school on Saturday afternoon. Fatigue might have been a factor in Saturday’s game.
“We came out a little slow,” said Robertson. “Then we had to pick up our intensity, when we came out in the second half.”
Saturday’s contest against Buckhanon-Upshur was a battle going down to the wire. The Warriors outran the bigger Bucs, but the AAA squad’s height advantage gave them the edge on defense. The Warriors had a chance to tie the game in the final minute, but the Bucs held on for a 67-61 win.
Allegheny Mountain Radio sports analyst Tony Minter talked about Saturday’s game.
“They played really well today,” he said. “J.D. Hensler had an excellent game – especially the first three quarters. It took Buckhanon-Upshur a long time to figure out how to handle him. He came up with a lot of big rebounds underneath and a lot of great put-backs and kept the Warriors in the game.
“Once B-U figured out how to shut him down, then we saw Dalton Irvine really step it up for the Warriors, and kept us in the game. But we had that small little break, where Buckhanon came up with some big plays late and put up that six-point lead, with about five minutes left, and the Warriors were never able to close the gap.
“But they did very excellent against a much bigger school. Certainly out-sized, both height-wise and muscle-wise, but they did a really good job of handling people. Stephen Mick did a good job underneath with rebounds. The Warriors slowed down the pace and played better as a team than the previous games. So they did a really excellent job tonight.”
Following the loss to B-U, McClung was disappointed – but not disheartened.
“We’re still real young,” he said. “People don’t realize it, but we were juniors, sophomores and freshmen all day today. Sometimes, that inexperience shows up down at the end of the game. We had some opportunities there, with 50 seconds left. We had an opportunity to go up and take the lead, but didn’t get it. We had three steals there, in the last 50 seconds, and didn’t capitalize on that. It’s inexperience, but it’s coming. Those kids are working hard. I’m pleased with what I see. You hate to lose, but against a large AAA school, we showed well today.”
The coach said shooting needs to improve.
“Right now, our biggest Achille’s heel is foul shooting,” he said. “We shot 60-percent today. I think last night we were down in the 40s. We’ve got to improve on our foul shots. We were 12 for 20 – and that’s not counting the front-ends and the one-on-ones that we left out there. The first half, we got out-rebounded. We talked about that and made some adjustments at halftime – ended up winning the boards 31-28. We had 20 turnovers, and three very critical, right there in the last part of the game. So we need to improve on that. We missed some easy inside shots, but that will come. I think that’s due a little bit to conditioning. We had three games this week, so our legs were probably a little bit tired. We try to pressure most of the game. So those are the things we need to work on.”
The coach expressed a sentiment shared by many fans.
“I think, as this season goes along, these boys are going to get better each and every game,” he said. “We’re looking for big things out of this team. We feel that we’re going to get better each and every game and these close games – we believe we’re going to start winning.”
The Warriors are scheduled to play at Moorefield on December 23, and have a rematch with the Bucs in Buckhanon on January 4. The next Warriors home game is scheduled for January 6 at 5:45 p.m. against Potomac Valley Conference rival Tygarts Valley.