By DAVE MORRISON
BECKLEY – Any defensive game plan against Wyoming East is going to contain schemes designed to take away two aspects of the Warriors game plan.
One is slowing McQuade Canada, the junior playmaker who is also the team’s leading scorer who is averaging 17.1 ppg with 54 3s.
Another is trying to defend senior shooter R.J. Hood, who has 48 3s in 17 games after missing six with a broken hand.
But the true key to the Warriors isn’t necessarily slowing one of the two leading scorers, as Westside found out in the first half Monday in Wyoming East’s 58-49 victory in the Class AA Region 3, Section 1 semifinals.
The Warriors are one of the more complete teams in the region, born of playing together as a squad over the summer months, including games together on the famed Mullens outdoor courts.
There’s is a systematic, clockwork precision that needs all the pistons turning as a unit to get full functionality and because of that those parts come to the fore at key times
Take the first half of the team’s Class AA Region 3, Section 1 semifinal against Westside for instance.
With Hood getting held down by the shadowing Hunter Walters in the first two quarters, it was Evan Preece, who put together a quick seven points – five on an 9-0 run to end the half that gave Wyoming East a 29-18 lead at the half.
That was the key point in the game.
“We came out not shooting the ball well,” said Preece, who had 11 points in the game. “I knew if Gump (Canada) isn’t hitting shots I’ve got to step up, I’m a senior. So I started hitting those mid-range and finally I hit that 3. It changed the game. That was the biggest stretch of points I’ve had in my high school career.”
It certainly did, but it’s no surprise. It’s how Warriors have operated all season, in putting together a 12-11 record against a top-notch schedule.
By the time the second half started Canada and Hood found their footing and ended the game with 19 and 13 points in the nine-point victory.
There is little doubt that the late flourish to end the half was the catalyst for the victory.
The Warriors face Oak Hill tonight in the Class AA Region 3 finals. The Warriors have lost to the Red Devils 54-53 on a buzzer-beater by Andrew Work and 66-63 at Oak Hill in a game in which the Warriors battled back from 18 down to tie it at 62-26. Wyoming East beat Oak Hill 63-43 in the Big Atlantic Classic at the Armory, site of tonight’s game.
Chase York was another who came through against Westside. He had just six points but also led the Warriors, a team without a true big, with 13 rebounds. Despite being one of the shortest players on the floor.
“You just have to go out there and give it all you’ve got and hustle on every play and every possession,” York said. “It usually ends up in a a lot of easy rebounds.”
You only have to listen to what those two players consider to be their roles on the team. It is a reason the Warriors have won seven of their last nine games after the one-point loss to Oak Hill in late January.
“I’ve got to be a dog,” York said. “All the loose balls, all the good defenders, you’ve got to be a dog with them.”
He showed that with one hustle play when he dove for a loose ball and was able to call a timeout. That led to a basket at a point in the game when every possession was valued.
York averages 9.2 points and has nine double-figure games.
Preece said his role is not necessarily points, though he does have 10 double-figure games and averages eight points per game.
“I’ve got to get boards and as coach said before, he thinks I’m one of the best defenders on the floor, I’ve got to play defense,” Preece said. “If Gump isn’t scoring the ball, I’ve got to step up on offense.”
The winner of tonight’s game will host the loser of Friday’s Section 2 title game between Shady Spring at Bluefield. The loser will travel to the winner of that Section 2 game.