By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Undefeated Westside at undefeated Wyoming East.
Talk about atmosphere!
East’s gym in New Richmond will no doubt be packed to the rafters tonight with boisterous fans as the two Wyoming County rivals throw down for early-season bragging rights.
“There’s nothing like walking out and seeing the gym packed with people who live and die with every shot attempted, every free throw, every pass made,” Westside coach Nick Cook said. “I wish everybody could experience it.”
Cook and his opposite number, Rory Chapman, know Wyoming County basketball rivalries as well as anyone. Cook played for Oceana in the early 1990s, when the county had four Class AA schools, while Chapman starred for Wyoming East in the early 2000s.
“I can’t imagine there’s a better rivalry in the state than Wyoming East and Westside,” Chapman said. “It’s always a high-intensity game. Both crowds will be great.”
Rivalry aside, the game is a classic matchup between Westside’s offensive-minded Renegades, who are averaging 78.5 points per game, and the Warriors’ defensive juggernaut.
East (3-0) has smothered opponents, allowing just 46 points per contest.
“We’re not putting up 70s like in previous seasons, but we’re playing better defense,” Chapman said.
The Warriors were especially impressive in holding Cincinnati Woodward to 47 points Dec. 27 in the South Charleston Christmas Classic.
“We’ve really focused on playing good, man-to-man defense. That’s who we are,” Chapman said.
Westside (4-0) opened the season by lighting up Class AAA Greenbrier East, taking an 83-81 victory in overtime.
The small but speedy Renegades next took wins over Independence (85-43), Class A defending state champion Tug Valley (68-59) and a respected North Marion club (78-55).
“My biggest concerns this year were whether we can rebound with other teams, and can we play at the pace we want,” Cook said. “The kids have answered. They’ve played fast-pace for four quarters and we haven’t been outrebounded by more than two or three.
“These kids will find ways to get things done.”
Westside has four players scoring in double figures — senior guard Corey Bowles (20.5 ppg), junior guard Will Fox (15.3), junior forward Justin Cogar (14) and junior guard Justin Kenneda (13.3). A fifth player, senior guard Levi Lambert, averages seven points a game but has missed much of the last two contests.
“Levi is back, fully cleared,” Cook said. “He had an issue with his eyesight, but it’s under control.”
The one thing Cook is not happy with is the Renegades’ defense.
“I knew we will give up some easy buckets with the (uptempo) style we play, but we have to do a better job on our transition defense.”
Chapman, on the other hand, came into the season wondering about offense after his team’s leading scorers, Josh Tunstalle and Brett Bowling, left for Greenbrier East and Fork Union Academy, respectively.
But as evidenced by a 66-41 win at PikeView, the 55-47 decision over Cincinnati Woodward and a 66-50 victory over North Marion, the Warriors are complementing their defense with more than enough points to win.
Senior guards Austin Canada (13.7) and Christian Hedinger (13) lead East in scoring. Senior forward Jordan Hayes (10.7) and a couple of sophomores, forward Cody Lester (10.3) and guard Logan Blankenship (6), round out the starting lineup.
“We’re inexperienced, but we’re getting better every game every practice,” Chapman said.
He added that senior guard Taron Ayers, a transfer from Summers County and last season’s Register-Herald Player of the Year, is on the roster and will play once he gets his practices in.
Game time is 7:30 p.m. Most fans will be there much earlier to get a good seat.
“You’ll see two good products, going at it,” Cook said. “I can’t remember a time when we were both undefeated.
“People look forward to this game year-round. Even in July it can get your juices flowing.”
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