By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Karen Miller was anything but certain her PikeView girls basketball team would return to states this season.
“We lost five seniors and four starters to graduation,” she said. “I thought if we could just get through this year and the girls get experience playing, we’d be all right.”
The Panthers did just that, getting their act together and beating old nemesis Summers County in the regionals to earn their third consecutive trip to states.
Their reward: A 5:30 p.m. matchup today at the Charleston Civic Center with Class AA No. 1 and defending state champion Westside.
That’s fine with Miller, who has coached the Panthers the past 17 years and led them to three state tournaments. She’s delighted to return to states.
“We have a tough schedule, and it helped. We knew we didn’t have shooters, and would have to work hard to improve,” she said. “The last several weeks, it’s made a difference.”
PikeView (14-10) returned just one starter, junior all-state guard Hope Nester. Both senior guard Hope Nester and sophomore forward Lyndsey Hatfield started one game each last season.
Still, the Panthers were undefeated against teams in their section, and were 2-4 within the region.
Nester has been a leader, not just with her stats — 14.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.7 steals per game — but with her courage.
She has fought back from an ACL injury incurred in the soccer preseason. Her doctors released her a few days before basketball practice began in November.
“Hope had rehabbed in the fall and came to conditioning. She had a month or so where she still had to be careful and was limited in how much time she could be on the court,” Miller said. “But she’s gotten a lot better.”
Nester, who’s just 5-foot-6, likes to penetrate to the basket, sometimes taking the ball in herself but often dishing off to a teammate. She has 343 points this season and broke the 1,000-point plateau back on Feb. 8.
“Hope goes hardcore at everything she does, and she expects everyone else to do the same,” Miller said. “She is the type of player who doesn’t like to lose at anything.”
Hill and Hatfield are other big cogs. Although she led the state in scoring back in soccer season, the 5-9 Hill (2.3 points, 1.3 rebounds per game) is defensive minded in basketball.
“We always put Laura on the other team’s best player,” Miller said. “She takes the challenge of stopping them.”
Hatfield provides 11.8 points and 8.2 rebounds a game. She loves to drive, but she can also shoot 3s.
Lyndsey brings us lots of energy, and she loves rebounding,” Miller said.
The other starters are 5-10 wing Alexis May (4.9 points, 2 rebounds) and 5-10 sophomore post Courtney White (6 points, 9 boards). Sophomore guard Lauryn Hatfield (2.3 ppg) and versatile freshman, Madison May a 5-11 forward (5.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg), are the top subs.
Westside (23-1) won two previous meetings, 74-34 in the second game of the season, and 58-28 in the 11th. Miller knows it’s an uphill battle.
“They’ve got a lot of good shooters, and they’ve got Hope Lester, who is probably the best post in the state,” she said. “They have people who come off the bench.
“To beat them, we’ll have to play our game — run any opportunity that’s available, take good shots and cut turnovers down. Defend well.”
The Panthers were the last AA team to defeat Westside, 55-51 two years ago in the regional.
“The pressure is not on us. It’s on them,” Miller said. “We’re going to go out and play PikeView basketball and go from there.”
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