The Watuaga High men's basketball team has hit a huge snag in its season.
For a team that came in with possible high expectations, the Pioneers (5-7 overall; 1-2 Northwestern 3A/4A Conference) find themselves gasping for air. They've lost six of their last seven games. Their latest setback
came Friday night.
WHS was smothered by Alexander Central 62-45 Friday night at Lentz-Eggers Gym in a NW3A/4A Conference game. And the Cougars (9-5; 3-1) got the job done in methodical fashion. They took a four-point, first quarter lead and built a 12-point advantage by the second quarter. The Pioneers, who trailed 30-22 at the break, never got any closer than seven in the second half.
"We really worked on our defense for this game," said Alexander Central coach Ed Wills. "We had lost two tough games coming in here. But we felt that if we could get some stops, we had a chance to win this game. Our defense was real good tonight. And we got a couple of stick-backs early in the game that really got us going. I thought we played pretty good."
The Cougars, who currently find themselves in second place in the NW3A/4A Conference, were coming off back-to-back overtime losses against Hickory. And the Cougars, who trail the Red Tornadoes by one-half game for first place, lost both of those games on last-second shots.
"And for us to come in here and beat Watauga is huge," Wills said. "It shows the makeup of our team. These seniors have really worked hard to get here. They're resilent, and to win here is huge. (WHS coach) Rob (Sanders) does a great job with his kids, and this is a tough place to play in."
Making matters worse, Friday's loss was a Class 4A divisional game in the conference. The cougars are 1-0 in 4A games; the Pioneers are 0-1; South Caldwell (6-7; 1-3), which comes to Boone Tuesday night, has yet to play a 4A opponent in the conference.
"It's frustrating," said WHS junior Ben Margolis. "They're a good team, but we just didn't play our best. We didn't get after it, and we made too many turnovers."
But the Pioneers, who trailed 41-28 in the third quarter, got it within seven at 41-34 with less than a minute to play in the period. But a bucket by Ben Ford of the Cougars, who scored ten points off the bench, gave the Cougars a nine-point lead at 43-34. From there, the lead grew to 17 points with 4:49 to play. WHS never got any closer than 11 down the stretch at 56-45 on three pointer by Margolis with less than two minutes left.
"Coach (Sanders) has been on us about playing with a lot of energy," Margolis said. "We really need someone to step up and make some plays."
Jake Pifer led the Pioneers with 19 points, but he fouled out with 49 seconds left in the game. He was the only player in double figures for the Pioneers. Margolis and Allan Koppenhaver (six rebounds) each had six points. Matt Proffitt had five boardsl; Ben Howser and Ethan Poulos each had three assists. Alek Ayer led the Cougars with 13 points. Tyler Crouch, despite foul trouble, finished with ten points. It was also Alexander Central's first win at WHS since the 2008-09 season.
ALEXANDER CENTRAL 62, WHS 45
SCORE BY PERIODS 1ST 2ND 3RD 4TH TOTAL
ALEXANDER CENTRAL........... 17 13 13 19 62
WATAUGA..................... 13 9 12 13 45
ACHS: GANT 6, SMITH 2, FORD 10, BIRKEDAL 6, CROUCH 10, MILLER 3, AYER 13, WATTS 6, MOHON 6.
WHS: PIFER 19, POULOS 2, PROFFITT 4, MARGOLIS 6, HOWSER 3, CHASTEEN 2, KOPPENHAVER 6, STURGILL 2, MACKEY 1.
COUGARS SNAP EIGHT-GAME SLIDE AGAINST PIONEERS
It's taken a while, quite a while as a matter of fact, for the Alexander Central High women's basketball team to get back on its feet.
Well, head coach Matt Taylor (now in his third year), who is making a strong argument for coach of the year honors in the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference, has the Cougars playing some serious basketball these days. And senior Marah Cockrell, who was victimized by the Pioneers the last three years, came up big when the game was on the line.
Cockrell scored all of her eight points in the fourth quarter as the Cougars (10-4 overall; 3-1 NW3A/4A) defeated Watauga 54-50 at Lentz-Eggers Gym. The win snapped an eight-game losing streak against the Pioneers. It was Alexander Central's first win against WHS (3-9; 1-2) since the 2006-07 season (the Cougars swept the season series that year), and it's also the first time that WHS coach Klay Anderson was victimized by the Cougars.
"Matt has done a great job getting his program turned around," Anderson said. "He's got his girls playing with a lot of confidence. I was happy with our performance, especially in the second half. We knew their size would give us problems, and they shoot the three real well. But we were so close, we could taste it. We were up 46-43 (in the fourth quarter), and we had a good look and couldn't score. If we score there, it changes the entire complexion of the game."
A 17-4 run by the Pioneers wiped out a 39-29 deficit. The Pioneers employed their 2-2-1 three-quarters-court trap that turned the tide. But Cockrall, who was scoreless until the final period, stepped up big at the end. Her three pointer tied the game at 46, and moments later, she buried another three with 17.5 seconds left that gave the Cougars the lead for good at 51-48.
"Cockrell really played well for them down the stretch," Anderson said. "Give her credit, she made some really big shots with the game on the line."
Freshman Madi Suddreth led the Cougars with 12 points. Taylor Wike had eight off the bench. Hannah Margolis led the Pioneers with 16 points. Savanna wood had 11, including three trifectas. Whitney Dunnigan had nine.
"I thought we had a good game plan going in," Anderson said. "We felt our three-quarters-court pressure and movement in our zone would disrupt their offensive flow. But they hit some big shots. And we still didn't play with a lot of energy in the first half. We were too up-and-down. We need to be more consistent like we were in the second half. But we fought hard. We just came up a little short tonight."
South Caldwell comes to town Tuesday night. Our coverage of that game begins at 6 p.m. on Oldies 100.7 FM.
NOTES: Alexander Central defeated the JV girls, 38-35. Clare Harris led the Pioneers with 11 points; Ryan Loflin and Eli Sloboda each had six points......The JV boys (12-0) remained undefeated by knocking off Alexander Central, 47-27. Cameron Baker led the Pioneers with 14 points, five rebounds and four steals. Jay Harrill had ten points and six boards; Matt Lambert had six points and four rebounds; Eli Gailes had six points and three steals.
ALEXANDER CENTRAL 54, WHS 50
SCORE BY PERIODS 1ST 2ND 3RD 4TH TOTAL
ALEXANDER CENTRAL............ 11 13 9 21 54
WATAUGA...................... 10 10 7 23 50
ACHS: WIKE 8, SETZER 7, SHARPE 4, FERGUSON 5, RITCHIE 6, HARRIS 1, COCKRELL 8, PENNELL 3, SUDDRETH 12.
WHS: WOODS 5, WOOD 11, DUNNIGAN 9, WALLACE 1, EPPLEY 6, MARGOLIS 16, DERRICK 2.