By Dave Morrison
BECKLEY – On the surface, Wyoming East’s 66-56 win against Nicholas County was a predictable victory on a late-January Monday night in front of a sparse crowd at the Big Atlantic Classic at the Armory.
However the win was more than predictable. Inside the program it was a big win.
When four of the top six players quit last week, coach Derek Brooks had to juggle the lineup.
So Brooks only asked from those who remained the one thing he knew he could count on, and that is effort.
“We told them before the game, ‘Hey guys, we know you are going to make mistakes. You’re new to varsity basketball, just go out and play hard for 32 minutes and that will take care of a lot of those mistakes,’ “ Brooks said. “These guys played hard for 32 minutes and that is all we ask of them.”
The reward was a first victory for many as starters and key players.
The Warriors still have senior Jake Bishop, a player who during his career has been at his best doing the things that don’t always show up on the stat sheet. The Warriors also have Tanner Whitten, a sophomore who has the potential to be the next great Warrior scorer and Anthony Martin, another workman-like senior who greatest strength is giving effort, a key for this team.
Other players who played against Nicholas County – new starters Tucker Cook, a sophomore and Garrett Mitchell, a freshman, along with freshman Chandler Johnson and senior Randy Raye – were at the end of the bench when the season started. None played in the season opener at Bluefield.
So yes, it was a big win for the new look lineup. Big, but not a surprise, Bishop noted.
“This is their first win in a varsity game for a lot of them, the freshmen and sophomores,” said Bishop, a veteran of 66 varsity games at Wyoming East. “It does instill a lot of confidence, but they had a lot of confidence to start with. Even when they were coming off the bench, Garrett came in and hit some big shots and Chandler would come in and play (key minutes). It is a big confidence booster but they are ready for it.”
“It’s a big confidence booster, especially since those guys left,” Whitten said. We’ve been working to get better. I have faith in our team. As long as we keep working hard it will pay off.”
Everyone’s role has ramped up and it shows in every way, starting with the scorebook.
In their first game, a 66-62 loss at Liberty, Whitten had a career-high 31 points and he has 50 points in the two games, increasing his average from 9.2 ppg to 11.3 ppg. Bishop had 15 points against Nicholas County, a season high. Martin had eight in the Nicholas County game, his second most points in a game this season.
“Those guys have been a staple in this program, Bishop especially,” Brooks said. “We brought him up as a freshman. I’m glad the kid stayed with us. He’s a hard worker. He probably has more grit than anybody on the floor and he goes after it.”
But what about the other players.
Freshmen Garrett Mitchell and Chandler Johnson were called up to the varsity before the season tipped off and started to gradually get worked into the rotation.
Mitchell had 14 points in five previous games and he has had 12 in the last two, including a career-high nine against Nicholas. Johnson, who was playing in his ninth straight game (10 over) did not score against Nicholas but he had a career-high nine against Liberty.
“Just to get to practice against (other varsity players) they see how physical it is, and they get to practice against that type of competition day-in, day-out,” Brooks said, “They are playing defense against those guys, they are playing offense against (the previous players) defense. I think they were kind of used to varsity basketball getting to play against those guys in practice.”
Tucker Cook, now a starter, had only played in four games previously and had not scored. He has 23 points in two games, 15 in the Nicholas County game.
“This is what we’ve dreamed of our whole life, playing varsity basketball at Wyoming East,” Cook said. “This win gets our team back in track. We’re all young and we need to continue and keep playing for the next years.”
The Warriors moved on to face Bluefield in the Class AA championship of the Big Atlantic Classic.
The Beavers and Warriors opened he season with Bluefield taking an overtime victory at Brushfork.
Things have certainly changed since that Dec. 16 matchup. Bluefield hasn’t played a home game since, though the Beavers are scheduled to face rival Graham tonight, and Wyoming East is just starting to play together on the same team in practice.
“A lot of them haven’t played on the same team on defense in practice yet this year, but for the last few days,” Brooks said. “That will come. They will gel a little better and I think they will come together more and more with every practice.”
Wyoming East 66, Nicholas County 56
Wyoming East (5-9 )
Tanner Whitten 9-21 0-0 19, Tucker Cook 4-7 5-6 15, Garrett Mitchell 3-5 1-2 9, Jacob Bishop 5-6 5-5 15, Anthony 4-8 0-0 8, Randy Raye 0-1 0-0 0, Chandler Johnson 0-3 0-0 0. TOTALS: 25-51 11-13 66
Nicholas County (2-11)
Colby Pishner 0-5 0-0 0, D.J. Coomes 4-15 6-9 15, Ryan Keener 4-11 0-0 8, Jordan McKinney 2-5 1-2 6, Bryson Phipps 0-0 0-0 0, Travis Smith 3-5 2-3 10, Wesley Hill 0-0 0-0 0, Cooper Donahue 6-9 0-0 15, Colten Keener 1-1 0-0 2. TOTALS: 20-51 9-14 56
Wyoming East 23 11 12 20 – 66
Nicholas County 9 17 7 23 – 56
Three-point guard – WE: 5-12 (Whitten 1-5, Cook 2-4, Mitchell 2-2, Johnson 0-1), NC 7-16 (Pishner 0-2, Coomes 1-5, McKinney 1-2, Smith 2-4, Donahue 3-3), Rebounds – WE: 31 (Whitten 11), NC: 24 (Pishner 4, Donahue 4), Assists – WE: 12 (Whiten 3, Cook 3, Mitchell 3), NC: 11 (Coomes 5), Steals – WE: 5 (five with 3), 12 (two with 3). Fouled out – None.