Only a day before his team would play for the Class AA state championship, Oak Hill’s Deandre Leonard was in the gym at Oak Hill as the baseball team completed practice.
They left and Leonard sat alone in the quiet gym.
“I just stayed there for about 30 minutes and thought about my four years,” Leonard said. “I just thought about it being my last time wearing an Oak Hill jersey. I had little tears coming down, I’m not even going to lie about it. Obviously, I will remember the back-to-back state championships, but I’m going to remember the good times, too.”
The next day, Leonard had 14 points, seven assists and five steals as Oak Hill beat Scott 57-48 to complete the season 25-3, the best record Oak Hill had since the 1989 team went 26-1 and won the Class AAA title.
Leonard said he feels like the team has now gained the upper hand on that team. His uncle, Merle Traynham, was on that squad.
“We made a bet, if we won the state championship, he has to do 500 pushups,” Leonard said. “I will be expecting him to do them. I think it gives us the upperhand because we did it twice.”
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Freshman Javonne Staunton-Bailey not only had 15 points and five rebounds and played all 32 minutes in the state title game, he also made all-tournament along with teammates Kalif Wright and Leonard.
“I was surprised to get selected to the all-tournament team,” said Staunton-Bailey, who had three 3-pointers in the victory. “My uncle (Brenton Staunton) made all-tournament in 1984 as a freshman. So it was big to me to step up as family. And my uncle, John Staunton, did it in 1987.”
No doubt his play was big, as he hit 3 of 3 from 3-point range in the first half, and then made his free throws in the fourth to keep the Skyhawks at bay.
“I just felt comfortable,” Staunton-Bailey said. “I’ve played almost 30 games so I felt like I could play my game. They were leaving me wide open. I worked too hard for them to leave me that wide open.”
After being held scoreless in the first game, Staunton-Bailey rebounded with 22 points in the final two games.
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Senior Thomas Booth, who had four points and four rebounds, said the title made up for him missing last fall’s Oak Hill soccer team playing in the title game.
Booth, an all-state soccer player with over 100 goals in his career, missed the run to the soccer finals after suffering a collapsed lung.
“This makes up for the soccer,” Booth said. “I had that one taken away from me. I had the hurt and struggle through all that. I was going to do all I could. This isn’t just for me. It’s for my family, it’s for my team, it’s for my high school, it’s for my town and it’s for my brothers out there.”
Booth said the finale was emotional.
“We had a lot of doubters out there, a lot of people who said we couldn’t do it. We took that as motivation. We knew if we played our game we’d be right back where we were last year. Now look at us. No other team in school history has done this. It’s special.”
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Senior Noah Smith put together a good three-game tournament, with 12 points and 13 rebounds in 39 minutes.
But it’s not so much the points, rebounds or playing time he’ll remember.
“I never lost a state tournament game,” Smith said. “I don’t know of many kids in the state, except for Summers County (five-time girls AA champions) who can say that.
“I just have to thank God for it, every second. Not many people get a chance to play on back-to-back champions and go 6-0 in the state tournament.”
Smith, who had been home-schooled for 10 years, joined the Oak Hill team in the second semester last year.
Overall, Leonard, Wright, Booth and Kyle Colon finished their careers 7-2 in the state tournament and the team won over 80 games in four years.
Oak Hill has appeared in five straight state tournaments, a school record.
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Head coach Fred Ferri said he will likely return next year at Oak Hill. Which means he will be there when Mount Hope consolidates into Oak Hill.
He said he doesn’t have a timetable.
“I’m going to look at some things,” Ferri said. “I can retire anytime I want now. I’m not going to teach or coach much longer. I will most likely (be back). I will investigate but I will most likely (be back).”
But his longtime assistant, Jerry Epperly, announced that he is resigning as an assistant.
A longtime baseball coach at the school — where Ferri was his assistant — and assistant football coach, the only coach to don a school baseball cap on the bench, said it was time.
“I missed baseball when I quit, I missed football when I quit,” Epperly said. “There are things that you do on those fields that just make you feel good. This one was special because nobody expected us to do it. I don’t know that I thought we could do it. But over the year the kids got better and the coaches coached better. I’ll miss it, but it was time. It’s time to let the younger guys take over.”
And the baseball cap?
“I don’t ever remember seeing another guy wear a cap,” Epperly said. “I’ll do anything I can to cover up my ugly face. I’m a baseball coach at heart. You know how I am. I like to throw stuff every now and then. So, if I have a baseball hat on my head ...”
Benitez Jackson, Monty Wright and Jason Blankenship are also assistants on the back-to-back state title winners.
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Another member of the 1989 state title team, Romel “Stuff” Lynch, said he still didn’t think that the current team matched what his team did winning the Class AAA crown.
“But, I will say this,” Lynch said. “I was impressed and they definitely made history at the school. Nobody did what they did, going back-to-back. I’m proud of them.”
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Oak Hill won this title with defense.
The Red Devils surrendered just 49.7 points per game over the three-day run.
Offensively, Oak Hill was fifth of the eight teams in the tournament, scoring just 58.7 points per game.
Wright was a one-man beast, averaging 27.7 ppg, the top average in the tournament, and he averaged 13 rebounds, second overall.
He had the top two scoring games with 33 against Keyser in the semifinals and 32 in the quarterfinals.
And he finished with his third straight double-double — his fifth straight in the state tournament — with 18 points and 10 rebounds.