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Tough early schedule helped Doddridge

by Mike Nutter

SPORTS WRITER

CHARLESTON -- At times, it seemed tough.

Doddridge County coach Dan McConnell watched as his team suffered through a 1-7 start of the 1999-2000 season following last year's less-than memorable 1-20 showing.

Lopsided losses to Paden City and Ravenswood began a season which few ever thought could be salvaged -- few, except for those who knew the Bulldogs the best.

Slowly, Doddridge County worked its way back to respectability. A 52-44 win over Wirt County laid the groundwork. From there, the Bulldogs ran off six consecutive wins. By the time the postseason rolled around, the six-year coach had his team where he felt it needed to be to make a run in the tournaments.

"We knew we had a pretty tough schedule," McConnell said earlier in the week. "We started off with Paden City, Ravenswood, Parkersburg Catholic, Ritchie County ... teams that aren't slouches.

"It was tough in the beginning, but these kids worked hard. We played five ranked teams. That helps a lot when it comes down to crunch time."

Still, at 9-12, Doddridge County didn't have the look of a team which would have Class A runner-up, Marsh Fork, on the ropes in the semifinals.

Sectional wins over Notre Dame and Gilmer County set the stage for a regional final against Harman and Scott Shillingburg -- one of the state's most prolific scorers.

The Bulldogs survived, and an improbable win over Class A power Wheeling Central followed. It wasn't until a pair of free throws in the final seconds ended Doddridge County's season with a 44-41 loss to Marsh Fork.

With all five starters returning and a pair of key reserves, it seems more like the beginning for the Bulldogs.

"I think what this has done is make us more hungry," forward Adam Cross said following his team's loss to Marsh Fork. "We realize what we have to do to get back here and win it all. We'll go to team camps, run ... do whatever it takes. All of us live pretty close together, so we'll work over the summer."

Cross, along with forward Chris Mitchell, center Rick Hamilton and guards Chris Gum and Benjo McKinney are all back for Doddridge County next season. Sophomore reserve Brad Wilt returns, as does junior backup Tim Bailey to bolster Doddridge County's frontcourt.

"Anytime you can take a group of kids to the state tournament, it's a positive," McConnell said. "We move up to AA next year, but we still intend to be here. I don't think it's unrealistic for us to come back and win in AA.

"This tournament was a little different, though. I guess since this could be the last time we'll be here as (Class A), made it a little special for me."

And for those who followed the Bulldogs through an unforgettable season.

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