Last year’s Hedgesville basketball team finally broke through the barrier that had eluded the program since a state title since 1970. The Eagles put together an impressive run as the No. 7 seed in the state tournament, eventually edging George Washington 33-32 in the Class AAA championship game.
“A lot of hard work went into the state title by a lot of people, and the kids were able to execute the game plan,” said coach Kelly Church. “I’ve said it over and over, I don’t know if we were the best team in the state of West Virginia last year, but I do know we were the best team that weekend. It was a tremendous experience that we’ll live with for the rest of time. It was awesome.”
That title game, meanwhile, was the lowest-scoring boys’ state championship under the current three-class format, which dates back to 1959. The game drew cries from around the state to implement a shot clock in high school basketball, but for Church, his team simply did what it had to do to win.
“We’re well aware of the stigmatism that comes with the talk of having to put a shot clock in because of us,” he said. “In some ways, that’s really flattering. But in one half of basketball last year at the state tournament, we scored 48 points, which was more than any other Class AAA team scored in a half of basketball. You have to be able to play at different speeds, and for us to be able to figure that out, took a while last year.”
“I don’t know if we were the best team in the state of West Virginia last year, but I do know we were the best team that weekend. It was a tremendous experience that we’ll live with for the rest of time.” — Hedgesville coach Kelly Church
It’s something Church is hoping his team this year figures out early on. Gone from that state championship team is Q.J. Peterson, who led the Eagles with 14 points in the title game.
“If he wasn’t the player of the year in the state, he was certainly the most valuable player. At times he put us on his back and willed us to win,” Church said. “Anytime you lose that, it’s hard to replace.”
And for the most part, it’s a new group of players this year for Church in terms of game experience as they try to defend their Class AAA title. Still, the Eagles did bring back three players that received significant game action last year in seniors Juwan Powell and Chris Shields, along with junior C.J. Burks.
“We have a long way to go to get to where we want to be,” Church said. “And as tremendous as last year was, we try to not to let it take away from the other years where we didn’t win state championships.
“We’d be the defending state champions if this was pro sports, but Q.J. isn’t here to help us defend anything. So, we’ve moved on and it’s a new year. We’re going to have a number of obstacles in the way and we’ll just do the best we can. We’re not always even the best team in our own practice, so we have a long way to go.”
The system, though, and coaching philosophy for Church hasn’t changed. Why mess with a good thing?
“If I let our kids just run up and down the court and press the whole time, they would love it,” Church said. “But the reality of it is that there are at least two teams in our area in Martinsburg and Washington that are probably more athletic than we are – especially when you get past the first five or six kids.”
Regardless, Church expects to have his team ready to compete for a trip back to Charleston in March. And if they do get there, who knows?
“We play so differently at times than everyone else in the state, so if we can just get to the state tournament, then we have a chance,” Church said. “But the reality of it is for us is that we have a long road ahead before we even get there.”