ALBRIGHT: Another big game for the Class AAA champs

Photo by Joe Albright Parkersburg’s Maddi Leggett runs a fast-break during the Big Reds’ 62-32 win over South Charleston Wednesday. Leggett and company go on the road for a big matchup this weekend.

Boyd County head coach Pete Fraley and Parkersburg High head coach Scott Cozzens share a similar mindset when it comes to playing top competition — Bring it on.

In their minds only positive results can surface from facing strong opponents. Players and coaches alike learn what they need to work on, win or lose. Then, all improve through practice for the next big games.

Those upcoming big games of course being each team’s respective state tournament.

Trips both schools have made in the last two seasons. Bus rides again in the plans later this winter.

Saturday though the assignment differs … Beat each other.

The AP top-ranked Big Reds face one of Kentucky’s 2018 Final Four participants, 287 teams duke it out for one title in the Bluegrass State, and currently AP ranked No. 4 Mountain Lions at 7:30 p.m. inside Fairland High in Proctorville, Ohio as part of the Tri-State Hoops Showdown.

Estimated time of arrival for those wishing to attend the inter-state contest is a weather-permitting two hours. The game another planned benchmark for PHS.

Luck brought these two teams together, but according to Farley the meeting was destined if both were in the same buidling at the same event.

Boyd’s leader has a friendship with Fairland High’s head coach Jon Buchanan. Farley’s team has attended this event the past few years in turn.

“I tell him (Buchanan) each year ‘It doesn’t matter who we play … Give us the best team you’ve got, we don’t care,” said Farley. “We will play anybody. It doesn’t matter.”

To his point, the only common opponent and loss between the two schools is Huntington St. Joe. Marshall commit Savannah Wheeler’s 43-point effort could not keep the Lions from L no. 2 of the campaign in a five-point loss to the Irish.

Wheeler enters the weekend showdown at 31.2 points-per-game on 43 percent shooting this season. She is one of just 25 players in state history to score 3,000 points in her career.

Her skillset is one Cozzens has coached in the past.

Erica Dawson recorded similar numbers during her time at Marietta High under his tutelage. Yet, his game plan does not fully revolve around solely stifling Wheeler.

“We contain her the best we can and focus on everybody else,” he said. “She is going to get hers. She has proven that. I know those kind of players and that is the way it is going to be.

“If we focus on her and someone else gets 15, we are in trouble. We have to hold down the rest of the team and make them guard us too at the same time.”

The possibility of someone else scoring 15 exist as the Lions possess four different players connecting on 35 percent from 3-point land. Second-chance opportunitites coming in bunches as well with a trio of players are averaging seven boards per game.

Harley Paynter is one of those young ladies. She tallies 16 markers per contest. Gracie Opel leads her team in shooting percentage at 44 percent.

Wheeler and Painter, along with post player Graci Boards, grab the majority of the boards. Impressive for a team where no one is above 5-foot-8.

Cozzens instilled in his team the effective solution to good shooting and rebounding.

“We have to play with a lot of energy,” he said. “We create turnovers and rebound better when we have energy. Shay-Lee Kirby is a big part of that. When she wants to rebound on the defensive end of the floor we are good. We just sometimes choose not to.”

Worry unconcerning to him even as the weekend matchup is the third game of the week for his team. “We have a deep bench and will play a lot of kids,” said Cozzens. “Shoot this time of year they are just ready to play.”

Similar to Thanos completing his Infinity Gauntlet in Avengers: Infinity War, the Big Reds reached full strength earlier this week for the first time this season as Madi Mace received a clean bill of health.

Her ankle ready for hardwood action once more.

Farley and his girls welcome the challenge. “We know it will be a formidable task because of their length and they like to get up and down the floor like us,” he said. “It is going to be an exciting game. We just want to be better at the end of the day then we were before the game. Win, lose, or draw.”

I personally can’t wait for this matchup. My TV commentating debut happens during this game. Not to mention, ten months have elapsed since the last time the Big Reds played at full strength.

Fortunately, Cozzens and his staff have a few games to work out the kinks.

In the words of Farley and him – Bring this game on!

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.

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