CLEAR FORK —
There were only three words that mattered to the No. 6 Westside Renegades Thursday night — survive and advance.
Westside secured its spot in a second straight Class AA state tournament by defeating the upset-minded PikeView Panthers 57-47 in front of a packed house in Clear Fork.
"Like I told the guys in there, the two greatest compliments I can give them is that you're coachable and they work hard and never quit,” PikeView head coach Lindsey Jones said.
But for the Renegades it was simply about surviving to fight another day and redeeming themselves from last year’s failure against Bridgeport in the first round.
“That’s what I said the whole night,” Westside coach Nick Cook said. “Give all the credit to PikeView; they came in with a good game plan.”
That game plan involved using the much larger and stronger Zach Meadows to clog the lane and force Westside to settle for the outside shot. That worked for much of the first three quarters.
“They were going to make us beat them from the perimeter,” Cook said. “But tonight, we couldn’t throw one in the ocean from two feet or 20 feet.”
The Renegades struggled from beyond the arc the entire night, going 1-for-18 from long range. The inside game wasn’t much better, making only 18 of 34 shots.
"That was the game plan, we were going to pack it in and close out on the shooters as best we can, we did a good job of closing out, whenever they got a shot we were in their face,” Jones said. “We didn't want to give up second chance points, every game they won they were getting 20-25 second half points."
But as it’s done so many times this season, Westside found the right shot at the right time, whether it was Justin Kenneda knocking down a 10-footer or Justin Cogar fighting his way through traffic and making the putback. It seemed the Renegades weren’t going to let this game get away from them.
For Cogar, who finished with a team high 15 points, it was about sending two valuable seniors, Corey Bowles and Jordan Browning, back to Charleston for another shot at glory.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he said beaming. “Corey and Jordan have been here for four years. They’ve worked hard and they deserve it.”
It’s been an especially rewarding year for Browning, who began the season coming off the bench, but found himself in the starting lineup late in the year after a shakeup left the Renegades with only four of their usual starters.
“I had no problem coming off the bench,” Browning said. “I just wanted to do what I had to do to play.”
Cook said Browning has been the team MVP of late, but not for stats that are easy to see.
“You’ll never see in a box score what kind of defense he plays,” Cook said. “He played against Meadows and was undersized and out-manned. He held him to 13 points and worked his butt off tonight.”
Meadows and junior guard Jason Weitzel showcased the heart and desire of the Panthers, who, despite losing, left an impression on the Renegades.
“I don’t know what their record was, but they’re a lot better than it indicates. Weitzel really lit us up tonight,” said Cook.
The junior with the high-arching jumper finished with a game-high 25 points and helped keep the Panthers within a few points for much of the game.
“He’s an Energizer bunny,” Jones said. “He never gets tired. He’s going to wear out defenders. He just did a good job tonight of pushing the ball up the floor. He really works hard on that pull-up jumper and was hitting it tonight.”
The Panthers’ chance of an upset lasted for 24 minutes, but in the final quarter, Westside stepped up the defensive intensity, holding PikeView to only four points in the first 4 minutes and managed to pull out the victory down the stretch.
“We were able to defend well,” Cook said. “We limited them to one opportunity and made them take some contested shots. That’s what won the game tonight.”
Now, the Renegades await Charleston and chance at bringing Westside its first boys championship banner.
“It’s awesome,” Westside guard Will Fox said. “We want to go up there and redeem ourselves from last year.”
“We’ve got one goal down,” Cook added. “We’re going back to Charleston.”
And for the two senior starters, there is no place they would have rather cut down the nets than Clear Fork.
“Not many teams get to do what we did tonight,” Bowles said. “It’s really special.”
“There ain’t nothin’ like these fans,” Browning added. “There ain’t nothin’ like being here and the aroma in this gym. It’s incredible.”
Twitter at @JDanielRollins.
at Westside High School
Nathan Taylor 0 0-0 0, Austin Hazelwood 0 0-0 0, Waylong Graham 0 0-0 0, Seth Wood 1 0-0 2, Bradley Finchum 0 0-0 0, Tanner Farley 2 0-0 4, Hunter Hill 0 0-0 0, Matthias Gaida 0 0-0 0, Jason Weitzel 9 3-3 25, Tyler Cecil 0 0-0 0, Zach Meadows 5 2-4 13, Wayne Brookman 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 18 5-7 46
Larry Cook 1 0-1 2, Will Fox 3 4-6 10, Jordan Browning 4 6-7 14, Corey Bowles 4 1-4 9, Justin Kenneda 1 5-6 7, Justin Cogar 6 2-2 15. TOTALS: 19 18-26 57
PikeView...........................8 14 14 11 — 47
Westside............................9 17 11 20 — 57
3-point goals: -- PV: 5 (Weitzel 4, Meadows.) W: 1 (Cogar.) Fouled out: None.