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Cougars land safely past virus; play in state tourney

By Bob Madison - For the Chronicle | May 7, 2021

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Over the mountains. Through the woods. To the Charleston Civic Center for the Class AAAA boys state basketball tournament goes the Jefferson High boys team.

Dodging the coronavirus at every turn, Jefferson dispatched both Washington and Musselman in its Sectional tournament and then prevailed over Hedgesville in one of the Co-Regional games to earn its way into the eight-school state tournament. Hedgesville could have gotten a state tournament berth with just one win in the postseason but Coach Kelly Church’s team couldn’t pull it off.

The Cougars lost only four games all year, and were given the No. 7 seed in Charleston, playing against George Washington (14-1 overall) in the quarterfinal round earlier this week.

Morgantown (now 17-1) was seeded No. 1 and opened its tournament run against the only team entered with a losing record — Beckley Woodrow Wilson, 10-11 overall and seeded No. 8.

Third-seeded Martinsburg (14-1 in all its games and with two wins over Jefferson) will play sixth-seeded Cabell Midland (12-4) in the quarterfinal round. Fourth-seeded Huntington (11-3) will try to duplicate the girls state championship the other Highlanders basketball team just achieved for the 2021 season. The Highlander boys will face fifth-seeded University (11-1) in the last of the quarterfinal games.

Should Jefferson get past once-beaten George Washington, it would see the winner of the Martinsburg versus Cabell Midland game in the semifinals. The Class AAAA state championship game is scheduled for Saturday.

The Cougars have ridden the various talents of Daion Taylor, freshman Jaiden Gladney, Jaden Butts, Ahmad Lesesne and sophomore Will Shively toward the heights of the just-installed Class AAAA ranks this season.

Even though Musselman had the first-round bye in the Sectional tournament, Jefferson downed the Applemen in Berkeley County to move into the Regional.

With Spring Mills not playing in the postseason, the Eagles had to play Martinsburg in the other Sectional in Region 2. Martinsburg defeated the Eagles for the third time this year and then also dropped Musselman for the third time to win its way to Charleston.

While Jefferson’s trek to Charleston must wind its way through the mountains and valleys and along Interstates, its opponent, George Washington, is located in the state capital and should enjoy the loyalty of a contingent of hometown fans.

There will be no undefeated teams in the Class AAAA field, but George Washington, Morgantown, Martinsburg and University have all lost only one time.

Jefferson carries four players with double-figure scoring averages with it. There has never been a boys basketball state championship claimed by any Jefferson High team, so this would a precedent-setting season for the 2021 Cougars.

The only loss George Washington suffered this season was a 58-50 setback handed the Patriots by Beckley Woodrow Wilson.

There are only four seniors on long-time Coach Rick Greene’s roster. Greene is in his 28th season and had gotten two big-school state championships, in 2011 and again in 2018. The Patriots also claimed a big-school state championship in 1971 when they defeated Charles Town from Jefferson County.

Senior Alex Yoakum is a 6-foot-2 swingman who averages 21.4 points a game and Mason Pinkett is another 6-foot-2 senior, who brings a 19.1 scoring average into the state tournament.

Not only did the coronavirus play havoc with the Jefferson schedule but Coach Richard Lewis’ team also had all its games with Virginia schools nullified by a Virginia state rule that had ended the season before Jefferson had already played Millbrook, Sherando and James Wood. All of those games were ruled “no contest” and couldn’t be counted.