By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Welcome back, Summers County.
Summers, which won Class AA girls basketball state championships from 2007-2011, makes its return to the state tournament at 9 p.m. today with a game against a talented — and very dangerous — Sissonville squad.
“It’s not an easy first-round game,” coach Wayne Ryan said of the quarterfinal matchup at the Charleston Civic Center. “This is a tremendous matchup.”
His Lady Bobcats bring a 20-3 record and No. 4 seeding into the game against Sissonville, 21-3 and seeded No. 5 in the double-A field.
Summers practically breezed through the quarterfinals and semifinals for five years before turning back strong challenges in the championship game.
The Lady Bobcats missed the last two seasons after getting barraged with injuries. This year they stayed reasonably healthy and had a banner year. They lost to just two teams, PikeView 45-29 on Feb. 6, and Westside twice, 75-42 on Feb. 20 and 57-45 on Feb. 27 in the Region 3, Section 1 final.
Now they face a first-round game that, unlike in years past, is anything but a lock.
Two of Sissonville’s losses were to fellow state tournament teams Fairmont Senior (76-61) and Scott (78-61), while the third was to a good Chapmanville squad (48-46).
“Both teams have about the same record, and both have good basketball players,” Ryan said of the matchup. “It’s going to be a battle.”
Summers is a young team that has received great performances from senior center Brandy Morrison. She had some 28 and 30-point games early, and finished with a 17-point average. She also brought down eight rebounds and had three steals and two blocks per game.
“Brandi has played great. I’ve never coached a kid who works any harder in the season or the offseason,” Ryan said. “She runs the floor well and has become a good shot-blocker. She’s rebounded well all year.”
Twin freshmen Brittney and Whittney Justice have also had banner years. Brittney averages 14 points, seven rebounds, three steals and three blocks, while Whittney brings 14 points, four rebounds, four assists, four steals and three blocks.
Both came highly-touted from middle school ball, and they’ve more than lived up to early expectations.
“It doesn’t matter what your talent or ability, the translation from middle school to high school ball is shocking,” Ryan said. “They’ve still got a lot of room to learn and grown, but they’ve done a really good job.”
He’s likewise proud of his junior contingent — 5-9 forward Avery Pivont (9 points, six rebounds per game), 5-7 forward Abby Taylor (7 ppg, 4 rpg) and guard Audrey Holley (5 ppg) — as well as sophomore guard Brennah Davis.
“The juniors hung in there when things were a little discouraging the last two years,” Ryan said. “They’ve put forth the effort.
“Avery led us in scoring last year, but has accepted a different role this year. She has still stepped up at key times. Abby is our lockdown defender who moved (from guard) into the post. Both show a willingness to do what they can for the team.
“Audrey had a limited role last year, but has come along and given us solid performances. Brennah is energy in human form. She’s a defensive demon. I’d hate to have her on me.”
Sophomore forward Kaitlyn Thomas and guard Nayla Bonds were solid in a support role. Big things were expected from junior post Shelby Smith, but she was injured early and missed the season.
“I’m really happy for the kids,” Ryan said. “Brandy has a state championship, and the juniors have gone through a lot of adversity and now it’s their chance. The freshmen have had a great first year. We’re excited.”
Sissonville will answer with a trio of big-scoring guards. Senior Brittany Gould, a transfer from Clay County, averages 20 points a game. Sophomore Madison Jones checks in at 19 ppg, while another sophomore, Karli Pinkerton, is good for 16 per contest.
“That’s three really good players,” Ryan said. “They’re dynamic players and 85 percent of their offense.
“All three penetrate hard to the basket. If we don’t defend and cut off the penetration angles, it will be their dance.
“If we can force them to take contested perimeter shots, it’s more to our advantage.”
He thinks Summers will respond to the challenge.
“You never know how a team is going to react, and this is a new experience for most of the kids,” Ryan said. “But I’m excited. We’ve played a lot of basketball games, and we’ve played in a lot of big places.
“I think we’ll be fine.”
— E-mail: email@example.com