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R.C. Byrd, Bridgeport among talented teams ready for tip-off

From Staff Reports

A season ago, the Robert C. Byrd Eagles claimed a share of the Big 10 Conference title and made it all the way to the opening round of the state tournament.

That trip to Charleston is something that RCB coach Mike Sprenger hopes can motivate what will be a young and inexperienced Eagles' team this season.

"It's a great motivational tool," Sprenger said. "The kids that were there last year want to get back real bad."

The problem for Byrd may be that not many of those kids are left on the team. Gone are leading scorer Mark Ross and his 11.6 points per game during the regular season, Heath Frazier (10.4 ppg.), Tony Shade (9.4 ppg.) and Andrew Barberio (7.9 ppg.).

"We only really have two guys who started or played a lot last year," Sprenger said. "We lost four seniors from last year and it's going to be tough to replace those guys."

The cupboard isn't entirely bare, however. The Eagles return Michael Defazio, who scored 10 points per game as a starter last season, and center R.J. Coleman, who scored nine a game.

Joining Defazio and Coleman in the starting lineup will be Bobby Buffey (7.1 ppg.), Noah and Chris Pettrey.

Eddie Prairie and freshman Miguel Lockett are expected to be the first off the bench for RCB this season.

"Lockett is a typical freshman in a way," Sprenger said. "He has his good days and his bad days. Prairie has really improved a lot since last season."

n BRIDGEPORT INDIANS: The defending Class AA state champions are a bit rushed to start the basketball season.

With the high school football season pushed back one week, the Indians' appearance in the state championship game on Nov. 30 meant that five players on the BHS basketball team were unable to practice until the past week. Coach Gene Randolph has noticed the change.

"We're running a little bit behind, but we're starting to make some ground," Randolph said. "We're just now starting to pick it up a little bit to where I can see a flow starting to develop.

"Last year, we had another week with them. This year, we're under a little more of a time crunch. The advantage we have is that those incoming gridironers were with us last year."

The Indians do lose two key starters off of last season's championship squad in point guard Chris Liebig and first-team all-state Vince Veltri (20.9 points per game). BHS did, however, pick up a possible scoring punch in Nick Carbacio.

In two games last season for Notre Dame, Carbacio poured in 70 points before a torn ACL ended his season.

"Nick's fitting in like a glove," Randolph said. "It's amazing. He's a very unselfish young man and a tremendously hard worker."

Carbacio will be joined in the starting lineup by Tyler Dodd, Brandon Brumage, Tim Lindsey and C.R. Rohrbough -- all key cogs in last season's championship run.

n SOUTH HARRISON HAWKS: Anytime you lose 45.4 points per game to graduation, it can be considered a rebuilding year, and that's what the Hawks are faced with this season.

Gone are first team all-state guard Jerred Novotny (23.1 ppg.), Stephen Greathouse (13.6 ppg.) and Tommy Cohen (8.7 ppg.), but SH coach Robert Shields feels his Hawks still have enough firepower left for this season.

"When you lose the three seniors that we did, I think we'll have a different style this year," Shields said. "I expect some good things out of this year."

Leading the way for South Harrison this season will be senior guard Jason Grimmett, who scored 7.2 points per game last season. Joining Grimmett in the starting five will be Kenny Welch, Jeff Messenger, Jason Myers and Scott Wallace.

Luke Lawrence, Matt Boring and Jay Sears are also expected to see extensive playing time. "It seems like we have five kids that can put the ball in

"Grimmett's going to have to carry the load for us as a floor leader," Shields said. "It looks like we've got five kids that can put the ball in the basket, though."

The Hawks had hoped to have junior Justin Ash starting at the point to start the season. However, a broken foot will keep Ash out until the middle of January.

"Ash having the broken foot really hurts us right now," Shields said.

With the graduation losses, and the lack of a true big man in the middle, Shields and the Hawks plan to turn up the tempo this season.

"We've got to use our speed an quickness to get out and run a bit more this season," Shields said.

n LIBERTY: Despite coming off of consecutive one-win seasons, Liberty coach Russ Nutt is optimistic his team's hard work will pay off.

The Mountaineers return eight players who started at least one game last season, and all 11 players on the roster are seniors.

"We're absolutely tickled to death since day one of practice with kids, from top to bottom, with the work they're putting in," Nutt said. "We're improved, but when you only win one game last year, what does that mean? I don't know what it means because we've haven't played anybody."

His team's hard work may pay off because all five starters, including the leading scorer, return.

Aaron Wolfe (5-foot-10) was the team's leading scorer last year, averaging 9.3 points. He'll start in the backcourt at shooting guard along with point guard Adam Harris (5-8).

Nutt's starting forwards will be Trenton Wilkerson (6-2, 4.1 ppg) and Mike Pettrey (6-0, 5.1 ppg), while Mike Menear (6-2, 5.8 ppg) will man the center spot.

"Everyone of them that played last year has gotten better," Nutt said. "We're still going to have some weaknesses.

"What we've got to able to do when we start playing is not play to those weaknesses and play to our strengths."

Nutt said his defense and team quickness are his strengths, "but past that I'm sure until we start playing."

Liberty opens at home Wednesday against Philip Barbour.

n LINCOLN: Entering his third season as the Cougars' head coach, Rob Hawkins found a way to make Lincoln a contender each season in the Big 10. In two season, Hawkins has a 25-20 record, but his task this year will likely be his most challenging.

The Cougars lost its entire starting lineup in addition to on of its top reserves making this year's squad one easily Hawkins' least experienced.

"It's almost like having a new team," Hawkins said. "We've only got two seniors, but they've done a good job of providing leadership so far."

Junior Wes Osbourn, who was largely used as a reserve role player last season, will likely be called upon to shoulder much of the offensive load. Osbourn averaged 5.9 points last season and is Hawkins' leading returning scorer. Inside, sophomore Adam Southern (.7 ppg.) saw limited time a season ago, but should be more of a factor this season. Sophomore Evan Nuzum will likely get the start at point guard and will be joined in the backcourt by Dave Decker (sr.), while Aaron Dragoo (jr.) will start at center.

"Our biggest concern right now is defense," Hawkins said. "I really feel like after they've played a few games together, offense won't be a problem. You would rather be a little ahead on the defensive end, but that's what we have to work on more."

Zac Bart and Kyle Hurst, who is sidelined with an injury, will add more depth in the backcourt, particularly at point. Josh Hamilton is another option, while Matt Ice and Levi Maxwell should see time inside.

The Cougars open the season Wednesday at home against Philip Barbour.

n GRAFTON: First-year coach Steve Smith turned the Bearcats into one of the most surprising teams last season with an 11-10 record and near upset of South Harrison in the sectional tournament.

Gone however are Smith's top two players from that team -- Chad Morris (17.1 ppg.) and Casey Workman (12.1 ppg.).

Smith will likely have to build around five role players a season ago.

Senior Mike Manning is Grafton's biggest offensive weapon returning from last season. Manning averaged 9.1 points and connected on six 3-pointers.

Juniors Adam Drainer (.9 ppg.) and Steve Barrett (.4 ppg.) saw their minutes increase last season and will have to become more of a factor in the Bearcats' frontcourt. Junior Josh Trickett (.9 ppg.) is also back and could be more of a factor for Smith.

Grafton begins its season Tuesday at Big 10 foe Lewis County.

n LEWIS COUNTY: In a season which produced more news off the court than on, the Lewis County Minutemen finally settled on its coach when former Alderson-Broaddus head man Brett Vincent accepted the job in late October. This came following the resignation of coach Andy Sorine who had accepted the job in August and only to return to North Marion.

Regardless, Vincent takes over a team which finished 2-20 last season and has not posted a winning season since 1984-85.

Junior Kevin Butcher (8.6 ppg.) is the team's leading scorer from last season and is back with some veterans to help Vincent in his first season. Senior Seth Miller (8.5 ppg., 17 3-pointers) returns in the backcourt, along with Byron Spiker (sr., 7.7 ppg.) and Ty Bennett (3.5 ppg.).

Joey Thompson (6.1 ppg.), Jordan Parker (2.8 ppg.) and Tom Wood (1.2 ppg.) give Vincent three other returners with experience.

The Minutemen open Tuesday at home with Big 10 rival Grafton.

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