By Rick RyanAssistant sports editorThe lure of competing in an event like the Big Atlantic Classic in Beckley is that you get a chance to tackle an unfamiliar opponent on an unfamiliar floor with (possibly) unfamiliar officials.In other words, a learning experience. For teams that have designs on reaching the state basketball tournament, you can use all the lessons you can get.So it is for the boys teams at Hurricane and Capital, who get the chance to test themselves Friday against one of the state's best Class AAA teams and one of the top individual players, respectively, when they take the floor in the week-long hoops event at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.The Redskins (10-3) meet Class AAA No. 7 Parkersburg South (11-1) at approximately 5:40 p.m. Friday, shortly after the No. 3 Cougars (6-1) play Lewis County (6-2) at 4 p.m.Hurricane runs into a Patriots' squad that is nothing but balanced.Logan Lawrentz, a 6-foot-6 senior, averages 13.1 points and 5.6 rebounds to lead South, but he's followed closely in scoring by Cody Monroe (9.5 points), J.R. Kerr (9.2), Garrett Gilkeson (8.6), Ty Dobson (8.4) and Tyler Berry (8.2). Monroe has also drawn 16 charges from opposing players.Six different players have led the Patriots in scoring in a game so far this season."You can't key on anyone,'' said Hurricane coach Lance Sutherland. "We watched them on film a couple of times and all of them can score. All of them can shoot and take it inside. They're all about the same height, too."It's a very solid team and you can't pick out one person and say, 'We're gonna shut this person down and we'll be OK.' That's why they've only lost one game. They'll be hard to beat.''
South, which has beaten one ranked team, No. 10 Wheeling Park, suffered its lone loss last week to Morgantown 59-56.Sutherland realizes that a good showing for his team in a showcase like the Big Atlantic can pay dividends in other areas, too."Exactly,'' he said, "when it comes to seeding in the sectionals and regionals. I think we need to be in more situations like that, with competition like Parkersburg South. If we pull that one off, we probably get Beckley again."It's great for us to get teams like that in a place like that with a lot of people. It can help get our program's name out there, and help our players like Henry [Sorsaia] and Trey [Dawson] when it comes to all-state votes. A lot of people don't know where Hurricane is anyway.''
The 6-5 Sorsaia (22.0 points) ranks second in scoring in the Mountain State Athletic Conference, and Dawson averages 14.0 points.The survivor between Hurricane and South advances to the AAA boys co-final against the Woodrow Wilson-University winner at 7:20 p.m. Saturday.
In the other four-team bracket, Capital lines up against one of West Virginia's more-prolific players when it meets Lewis and 6-4 senior John Riley, who turns in 25.0 points and 13.6 rebounds per game.In fact, the top three scorers for the Minutemen are all seniors - 6-1 Joe Nichols (13.7) and 6-2 Skylar Carlton (11.0) join Riley in that group."From what I know about them, their big guy is pretty durn tough,'' said Capital coach Carl Clark. "They're a seasoned team, so you have to be expecting them to be able to execute their stuff pretty well."That worries me because we're not doing that. At this time of the season, you'd think we'd be almost there, but we're a long way from it right now.''
What a difference a year makes. On Jan. 30 of last season, the Cougars had already played 18 games. This year, just seven due to weather and water woes."We need to play,'' Clark said. "The last time we played, we looked very, very undisciplined, raggedy. No continuity. Then we got tired."With the type of basketball we try to play - run on every opportunity and pressure defense - it's just something where the kids have to be in condition to do that. We may have to back off some to preserve their energy.''So (gasp!) should we expect ever-frenetic Capital to try a zone defense?"Not back off that much,'' Clark said with a laugh. "Maybe a little bit more halfcourt man to man, match up a little bit more and get our kids in condition to play like that.''Carrington Morris (20.6), Jordan Kinney (13.1) and Bryce Goldsmith (9.6) pace the Cougars in scoring average.The game could be high-scoring, as Capital averages about 75 points and Lewis County more than 71.Lewis' two losses have come to ranked teams - Parkersburg South (91-76) and Robert C. Byrd (69-55), the state's No. 1 AA team.The winner moves on to the co-finals at 9 p.m. Saturday against the Greenbrier East-Preston winner.nn
Two Kanawha Valley girls teams will also take part in the Big Atlantic Classic - George Washington and St. Albans - and both play today.The Patriots (3-5) meet Class AAA No. 4 University (11-2) at 4 p.m., and the Red Dragons (10-2) square off with Hedgesville (3-10) at 9 p.m.The winners of those games collide in one girls co-championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday, and the losers meet in a consolation game at 2 p.m. Friday.Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.