Quest for state title begins for Patriots

PARKERSBURG -Don’t tell Parkersburg South girls basketball coach Scott Stephens he has a young team.

That may have been true when the Patriots opened the season in December but now that South has won 17 of 24 games and is headed to the state tournament, Stephens has placed a ban on the y-word.

South’s young (sorry, coach) team took its lumps early in the year, limping to 0-3 and 5-5 starts. But the Patriots have won seven of their last eight, including three tournament games, and are ready to see if they can deliver the program’s third state title in eight years. South’s quest begins at 7:15 p.m. today against 17-8 Hedgesville.

Stephens, who guided the Patriots to Class AAA championships in 2006 and 2008, believes his team is battle-tested. He notes Maxpreps.com lists South’s schedule as the state’s most difficult.

“We operate on the Ric Flair philosophy,” he says. “To be the man, you got to beat the man.”

South is led in scoring by two young guards, both of whom have a Y in their first name -sophomore Keya Bartlett, who averages 20 points per game and freshman Taryn McCutcheon, who is scoring at a 16 points per game clip. Both also can handle the ball and play solid defense.

The forwards are freshman Carlie Wilson and junior Kayleigh Rexroad. Wilson can shoot from inside or outside while Rexroad is a strong rebounder and defender.

Center Miranda Workman is the only senior starter. As the team’s elder statesman, she has taken a leadership role. She gives South a strong defender in the paint.

The bench is stong, deep and, er, young. Freshmen Katelyn Byrd and Anna Hayton -at 6-foot-2 the tallest member of the Patriots -ensure a strong future for South basketball. Sophomores Katleyn Enoch and Hannah Cothern both are aggressive players who play tenacious defense, Junior Lacey Cale is a physical player who is a strong rebounder despite standing just 5-5. Senior Sutherlin Greenburg not only is a great influence on the younger players, but she runs the floor well and is a strong defender.

This team has exceeded all of Stephens’ expectations. Before the season started, he went through the Patriots’ rugged schedule and figured South would win eight games. But South has more than doubled that total.

“They have adopted to the speed of the game,” Stephens said.

Stephens says Capital’s stunning upset of defending champion and No. 1 Greenbrier East has thrown the Class AAA field wide open.

South’s opponent, Hedgesville, is led by sophomore guard Kristen Nunn, who averages 18.2 points per game. She’s a penetrator who gives opposing defenses fits. Junior Carly Elliott scores at a 14.5 points per game clip. She is a team captain along with seniors Kelsey Shaw, a forward, and Bianca Creamer, a four-year starter at guard. The other starter is 6-foot sophomore forward Alexis Taylor, who averages 10.5 points per game.

Like South, Hedgesville got off to a slow start, finding itself 6-6 after 12 games. But the Eagles have won 11 of their last 13 and have landed in the state tournament. They are playing their best basketball of the season, as evidenced by their 93-33 regional win over Elkins.