The Watauga High men's basketball team came up short Thursday night in Moravian Falls.
WHS (4-5), mired in a four-game losing streak (its longest since 2005-06), fell behind by 28 points in the third quarter, and
despite a late charge, lost to Wilkes Cental 77-70 in a non-conference game at The Nest. It was also WHS's fourth loss in Moravian Falls in the last five years.
A slow start doomed the Pioneers in the third quarter. Trailing 39-26 at the intermission, the Eagles (8-1), riding a seven-game winning streak, built a commanding 56-28 lead with 3:42 to play in the period. A 17-point run allowed the Eagles to pull away.
But the Pioneers closed out the third quarter on a strong note, trailing 60-41, and setting the stage for WHS's fourth-quarter charge.
"Sometimes as coaches, you just have to get out of the way," said WHS coach Rob Sanders. "They finally starting playing basketball, and starting having fun late in the third quarter. They weren't worried about making mistakes, or running the right plays and making me mad. They just starting forcing the issue, and fed off our defensive pressure."
The Pioneers went to a full-court press late in the third quarter and the momentum carried over into the final period. The Pioneers cut the lead to 13 at 71-58 with 2:36 to go on a breakaway dunk by Jake Pifer. And a 9-1 run got WHS with five at 72-67 wirth 36 seconds left on a pair of free throws by Pifer.
"We really disrupted their tempo," Sander said. "They weren't comfortable bringing the ball up the floor, and they weren't comfortable running their offense once they got it into the front court. Maybe we found something here. Now, the question is, can we find a way to maintain this for an entire game, and against other teams."
The Pioneers outscored Wilkes Central 29-17 in the final stanza. But WHS's comeback was cut short by Will Cornette as he made five free throws down the stretch. His two free throws with 34 seconds left gave the Eagles a 74-67 lead; and his two free throws with 18 seconds to go made it 76-67. But despite the loss, and a four-game losing streak, Sanders and the Pioneers were upbeat following the game.
"We've been searching for an idenity," Sanders said. "And we may have found it. We have the personnel to play this uptempo style of game. To be down by 28 points and to get it as close as we did, that's a heck of a charge."
Pifer led all scorers with 29 points, 20 of those in the second half. He also had eight rebounds. In all, the Pioneers had four players in double figures. DeWayne Mackey turned in a career-best 12 points in the loss; Matt Proffitt and Ben Howser, who both fouled out, finished with ten points apiece. Proffitt had six boards; Howser had seven.
Christian Triplett and Armin Omanovic, who fouled out with 2:22 left in the game, led the Eagles with 16 points each. Cornette finished with 12, and he made seven of his last eight free-throw attempts; Calvin Shoemaker poured in 12.
"We still have a little more than a week to get ourselves ready before the real season begins with conference play," Sanders said. "We're trying to find a successful style of play before we get back in school. And tonight may have been a positive step in that direction. We gave ourselves a chance to win by going to that high pressured defensive style of game. The guys were real upbeat following the game and picking each other up. That's because they're having fun. and when you're having fun, good things happen."
The Pioneers take on Starmount at the Alleghany Christmas Tournament Tuesday afternoon at 5:30 p.m. in Sparta, NC.
WILKES CENTRAL 77, WHS 70
1ST 2ND 3RD 4TH TOTAL
WATAUGA............12 14 15 29 - 70
WILKES CENTRAL.....15 24 21 17 - 77
WHS: PIFER 29 (8 REBOUNDS), sTEURY 3, POULOS 2, PROFFITT 10 (6 REBOUNDS), HOWSER 10 (7 REBOUNDS, 3 BLOCKS), STURGILL 4 (4 ASSISTS), MACKEY 12.
WILKES CENTRAL: STALEY 6, CORNETTE 12, LINDON 7, McNEIL 2, OMANOVIC 16, SHOEMAKER 12, WILLIAMS 6, TRIPLETT 16.
EAGLES CLIP PIONEERS
The Watauga High women's basketball team may only have two wins this season, but this group deserves an "A" for effort.
The Pioneers (2-7) picked up a moral victory Thursday night in Moravian Falls. Playing against a powerhouse team in Wilkes Central, the Pioneers held their own and dropped a 55-45 decision at The Nest. It was Wilkes Central (9-0) third straight win against WHS. But the Eagles had to earn it.
WHS had a brief lead at 2-1 early in the game on a bucket by freshman Haleigh Wallace. The Eagles came roaring back to jump on top to stay on their next possession. But the Pioneers did an excellent job keeping the game within reach.
"We never allowed Paige Love (who has signed with UNC-Asheville) and Katie Rider to take control of this game," said WHS coach Klay Anderson. "Those two girls are great players. But I felt we really made both of them work tonight on defense, especially Love. It really took her out of her game offensively."
The Eagles closed out the opening stanza on a nine-point run and opened a 15-5 lead. But the Pioneers hung tough and only trailed 25-15 at the break. It was 38-28 after three before the Eagles opened their biggest lead at 44-28 early in the fourth quarter. But the Pioneers, playing a pressure defense, worked their way back into the game.
A bucket by Hannah Margolis capped off a 12-1 run and made it 45-40 with 2:45 to play.
"We had a spirited practice on Wednesday," Anderson said. "We worked on drills, and really prepared ourselves for this game. Following that practice, I was extremely confident in our chances coming into this game. We missed some easy shots in the first half. But our team was extremely hungry. And that's what you want to see."
Margolis led the Pioneers with 16 points, 12 of those in the second half. Savanna Wood had ten, including a pair of threes. Rider finished with 18 to pace the Eagles; Martha Mastin had 15. Love had nine.
"I know we lost this game," Anderson said. "But if we keep playing with this type of intensity, especially going into the Christmas tournament (in Sparta, NC) next week, I feel we can really make a run in our (Northwestern 3A/4A) conference."
The WHS men and women travel to Sparta, NC for the Alleghany Christmas Tournament Tuesday and Wednesday. The WHS women will play West Stokes at 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon; the men will play Starmount at 5:30 p.m. Both the men and women will play South Stokes on Wednesday. The men play at 7 p.m. the women play at 8:30 p.m. Our coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday afternoon on Oldies 100.7 FM.
NOTES: The JV girls defeated Wilkes Central 32-22. Rachel Foutz led the way with ten points. Claire Harris had nine and Ryan Loflin had six......the JV boys are 11-0. They defeated Wilkes Central, 51-36. Jake Chasteen had 16 points, nine rebounds, three blocks, and four steals; Eli Gailes had seven points and five assists. Jay Harrill had six points and three blocks, Cameron Baker had six points and five rebounds; Matt Lambert and Jonathan Plyler each had six points; Zeb Speir had four.
WILKES CENTRAL 55, WHS 45
1ST 2ND 3RD 4TH TOTAL
WATAUGA.........5 10 13 17 - 45
WILKES CENTRAL..15 10 13 17 - 55
WHS: WOOD 10, DUNNIGAN 6, WALLACE 5, EPPLEY 6, SEAMONE 2, MARGOLIS 16.
WILKES CENTRAL: RIDER 18, BLAIR 2, WILLIAMS 5, LOVE 9, SHOEMAKER 6, MASTIN 15.
WEDNESDAY NIGHT'S GAMES:
AVERY 77, ASHE COUNTY 49
FREEDOM 51, ALEXANDER CENTRAL 38
PATTON 69, FRED T. FOARD 55
ASHE COUNTY 83, AVERY 55
FRED T.FOARD 60, PATTON 57
FREEDOM 47, ALEXANDER CENTRAL 29
THURSDAY NIGHT'S GAMES:
WILKES CENTRAL 55, WATAUGA 45
WILKES CENTRAL 77, WATAUGA 70