By Dave Morrison
LINDSIDE – You watch them now, and it’s hard to believe there was a time when slow and steady was the way to go for James Monroe.
Saddled in Class AA Region 3 with athletic teams like Wyoming East, Oak Hill and Bluefield – all of whom won back -to back state titles in a nine-year span between 2006-2014 – the only way the Mavericks could contend was to run offense and limit possessions. Which is exactly what Matt Sauvage continued when he arrived at his pseudo alma mater (he is a Peterstown graduate).
The strategy paid a few dividends, only a couple years ago the Mavericks went into Brushfork Armory and beat Bluefield, a rare feat. But the lows outweighed the highs.
“The last four years we’ve had to slow it down,” Sauvage said. “Lots of that is just numbers. We only had five, six guys we could rotate and it’s hard to run because you know you’re going to pick up some silly fouls when you’re pushing offense and defense.”
Monroe County still has some of the most picturesque landscape in the area, if not the state, but things have certainly changed on the hardwood.
Class A No. 3 James Monroe (17-1) will host No. 7 (tie) Greenbrier West (10-7) Wednesday at 7 p.m.in one Class A Region 3 co-final. No. 10 Greater Beckley (8-7) is at No. 7 (tie) Webster County (10-6) in the other Region 3 co-final.
These are high-flying times for the Mavericks, whose sectional title win over Greater Beckley is their first since 2009.
The Mavericks are averaging 78.8 points per game, the most in Region 3 and a new school record. And three times this season JM has scored over 100 points in a game, including a 100-65 victory against River View in the section tournament opener. The Mavs are outscoring opponents by and average of just under 40 points per game. Junior Shad Sauvage, who this year became the second player in school history to score over 1,000 points in his career, and sophomore Eli Allen scored over 30 points in the same game this season, another first at the school and they were the lone duo in the state to do that in a game this season.
So what changed?
“The coaches and I sat down in the offseason, trying to figure out who was coming in,” Sauvage said. “We realized that the team we got we were going to have to really focus on our coaching abilities and get our heads straight so we could get them up and down the court. If we were going to slow them down we were going to hold them back.”
So he unleashed those horses and they took off.
Shad Sauvage leads the way averaging 21.6 points per game and he leads the area in 3-pointers made with 76. and nobody else in the area has 50 made 3s. He is shooting 40 percent from 3 and is shooting 81 percent from the free throw line (64-79). Sauvage has scored in double figures in all 18 games and is one of two area players with at least two 3s in every game. He has 11 games of 20 or more points, and two of 30 plus points. He also averages 3.6 rebounds and 4.2 steals.
Eli Allen has morphed to 6-3 this season (he was about 5-11 last winter) and he does it all, with as much potential as any sophomore in the state. He is averaging 17.7 points per game, 7.6 rebounds and 8.6 assists. He scored in double figures in all but one game, had six games of 20 or more points and had a season team high 35 in the sectional opener, one of two 30-plus games for the sophomore.
“Shad and Eli are two of the best players in the state and they can play at any level in the state, there’s no doubt about it,” said Greater Beckley coach Justin Arvon, who has played some of those teams. “You got a kid pulling with a quick release like Shad does from 24 feet and you just feel like it’s going in while its in the air because he’s shooting it.”
As important as those two all-state candidates have been, as equally as important has been the play of their bigs inside. Judd Lankford 5.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and has 27 blocks. Cam Thomas is averaging 7.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and has 19 blocks, all that off the bench. Peyton Whitt, who missed last season with a football injury, averages 4.3 points and 4.8 rebounds.
Josh Burks (6.3 ppg), Noah Hunter (4.7) and Collin Fox (5.5 and 4.1 rebounds) give Sauvage plenty of options. All those players have double figure games.
Greenbrier West has a team capable of getting the job done against James Monroe. Aside from James Monroe’s lone loss against Greater Beckley, the Cavs came closest to beating James Monroe, falling 69-64 in Charmco March 22. The Cavaliers also scored 100 points in their Section 2 opener, beating Richwood 100-46.
Before falling to Webster County in a battle of dual No. 7s (ranked) in the Section 2 championship game at Upper Glade, Greenbrier West had won five straight. The Cavs played a tough schedule, falling to No. 3 James Monroe (twice, the other a 65-44 loss in Lindside), No. 4 Tug Valley (twice). No. 7 Webster (twice) and Class AAA Westside (at the New River CTC at the Armory in Beckley). The Cavs have beaten No. 5 Clay-Battelle (74-58), Class AA No. 1 Williamstown (67-66) and won the Hometown Invitational championship by beating South Harrison 73-63.
West also has its own 1,000-point scorer in Kaiden Pack, who topped the mark in the sectional opener and Pack averages 20.9 points per game with 30 3s. He also averages 6.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.6 steals.
The Cavaliers have a talented unit, with Chase Boggs quietly putting together a solid season. He is averaging 12.5 points and he has scored in double figures in all but two games, including eight straight. The 5-10 senior also averages 3.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.8 assists. Chase McClung averages 8.2 points and 8.4 rebounds, Lawson Vaughan 8.9 points and 7.4 rebounds and Brandon Ocscar, 10.8 rebounds and 2.6 rebounds.
Greater Beckley closed the regular season with back-to-back wins over James Monroe and Webster County in a three-day span, will seek to replicate its win over Webster County. It had a rematch with James Monroe that didn’t go the way the Crusaders had hoped.
GBC beat Webster County 75-70 in the season finale and like West Greater Beckley faced a tough schedule which included losses to Class AAAA No. 7 Greenbrier East (70-65), Class AAA Shady Spring (63-56), Class A No. 3 James Monroe (twice) Class A No. 4 Tug Valley (87-57), Class 7 Webster (71-59). The other was a two-point loss to Calvary in the WVCAT without big Jordan McInnis. The Crusaders also own those two wins against James Monroe and Webster and also beat Class AA No. 8 Magnolia (65-58).
“Huge challenge,” Arvon said after the loss to James Monroe. “It’s a great team, well coached, good environment up there, it’s going to be tough to win. This is what we typical do, we start slow for whatever reason, the focus is not there and then we have to play back and we typically do. We can’t do that. It’s winner take all.”
Jordan McInnis and Kaden Smallwood offer a tough guard-post combo. McInnis averages 15.5 and Smallwood 15.4 and point guard B.J, Mitchell averages 11.9. John Rose averages 8.9 points and he has a team-best 21 3s.
Webster County is just two seasons removed from an undefeated and state championship season. Since the 2020 state tournament was cancelled you could say the Highlanders are the defending champions, or, at least, the last Class A champion.
Rye Gadd is one of the top players in Class A. The junior, who played a supporting role on that state championship team in 2019, is averaging over 20 points per game. Carter Williams and Kaden Cutlip give the Highlanders a legitimate Big Three.