Prep notebook: Sissonville banking on freshman scorers
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After losing six seniors off last year's team, all of whom had starting experience, Sissonville knew it was in for a fresh start this season.
Just how fresh?
Well, as the Indians reach the midway point of the regular season, their top three scorers have been freshmen - Blake Newhouse (11.8 points per game), Chance Brown (8.6) and Seth Bowlin (7.9).
A fourth frosh, Bryce Taylor, plays a lot at point guard but doesn't shoot much.
Coach Rich Skeen realized this would mark a rebuilding season for Sissonville, but he's been pleasantly surprised by his team's competitiveness. The Indians sport a 5-6 record and are 3-4 in the difficult Cardinal Conference.
"It's been good,'' Skeen said of the process. "It really has. It's been fun. You take your lumps some games, and there are ups and downs, but it's been a lot of fun. They're great guys to work with. It could be a lot worse having to play young kids at this point in the year.
"Our older guys even like playing with [the freshmen]. They know all of them, having gone through the summer period with them. They know what they're capable of. They know they're our better scorers, and that helps. Our older guys don't score as much, but help them out because they're pretty much our muscle.''
Nathan Miller is currently the only senior starter for the Indians, with classmates Adam Robinson and Duncan McClung coming off the bench.
Skeen noted that the Indians have been in most of their games despite the emphasis on youth.
"Other than Poca [a 79-47 loss], we've been right there in every game,'' Skeen said. "Even then we were only down seven at halftime, but two minutes into the third we're down 17. Chapmanville beat us by 15, but it's an eight-point game with 51/2 minutes to go. We lost to Valley in overtime and in our Big 10-Cardinal Conference Challenge game [versus East Fairmont], we got down 18 but cut it to two and lost by five.
"We give ourselves a chance. We're right there. I've got no complaints. We're having a good time growing up together. Hopefully by the end of the year, we grow up fast.''
Bad timing for Highlanders?
There's never a good time to lose your top scorer and all-state-caliber player, and it may have come at a particularly tough time for Huntington.
The Highlanders (8-1) saw 6-foot-3 senior Arick Nicks (about 15 points per game) ejected from last Thursday's game for two technical fouls, forcing him to sit out two games per SSAC rules.
One of those two games, as it turns out, could be perhaps the most important regular-season game of the year for Huntington - Wednesday's date at South Charleston. The No. 2 Highlanders and No. 5 Black Eagles (8-1) are expected to duel for the West Division title in the Mountain State Athletic Conference, which earns a spot in the league's championship game on Feb. 22.
At first, it seemed as if the Highlanders would catch a break with Nick's absence.
Those two games looked to be Saturday's 65-60 loss at George Washington and Monday's game against Logan. Since neither was a West Division game, those outcomes wouldn't have affected the Highlanders' Night of Champions status. Only MSAC division games determine participants in the league's title game, the runner-up game and the accompanying place-winner games.
Then Monday's home game against Logan was called off by the threat of more wintry weather. Prior to that, over the course of nine games in January for Huntington, the only two that weren't divisional games were GW and Logan.
"Of course, you want to win every game,'' said Huntington coach Ron Hess after Saturday's loss at GW. "You never look at it that way. We thought we had a good game plan [at GW]. We thought we could get them.''
Waxing hot at Wayne
The breakthrough season continues for Wayne, which last week won at Class AA co-No. 5 Chapmanville 62-59 in overtime. It keeps the Pioneers (7-4) afloat for just their second winning season since joining the Cardinal Conference in 1999.
Earlier this season, Wayne beat county rival Tolsia, which had previously won 58 of 59 games between the teams, and also broke a three-season, 19-game conference losing streak. On Monday, for the first time in many years, the Pioneers received votes in the Associated Press state poll.
The school has fielded traditionally strong football and baseball programs, but boys basketball has lagged behind until this season.
"One thing that hurts us,'' said coach Sam Cochenour, "is that we start our season Dec. 6. We do very little in the off-season, so our guys haven't played together very much. And the Cardinal Conference is tough.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.