By David Rogers. February 5, 2019. BOONE, NC — It was only fitting that host Watauga emptied the bench en route to a dominating, 79-53 win over Hickory-St. Stephens. It was a night celebrating the Pioneers head coach Rob Sanders recording his 198th win, tying the late Carter Lentz of Blowing Rock for the Watauga program’s most ever. Both coaches achieved the milestone in 15 years at the helm.
COVER IMAGE: Watauga point guard Zach West goes under and around a St. Stephens defender in driving to the hoop. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Sophomore forward Blane St. Clair was again the offensive star with a game-high 23 points, including four from beyond the 3-point arc, but this victory was as much about the Pioneers’ strong defensive effort that allowed only one of the Indians to score in double figures, 11 points by senior forward Joshadrian Ikard.
While St. Stephens was only down by four at the half (29-25), a 26-point outburst by Watauga that included 10 by St. Clair, five from junior guard Jaiden Bond, and six by junior guard Anderson Castle pretty much sealed the proverbial deal for the home side.
Of the 13-man Watauga roster, all 13 athletes played and all but one (senior guard Jackson Greene) put points on the board. And while he didn’t score, Greene played a pivotal role on defense in helping the Pioneers outpoint the Indians 50-28 in the second half alone.
Blowing Rock News’ “Player of the Game” nod on this night goes to Watauga senior point guard Zach West for his relentlessly disruptive defensive play and gutsy drives down the lane. In the process, he scored 11 points, but in attracting attention down the lane he was able to kick the ball out to the perimeter for the likes of St. Clair, Jake Sears, Bond, or Castle to mount an attack on space, if not burn the nets from long distance.
Once again Watauga was effective from long range, pouring in an even dozen 3-pointers, including multiple treys by St. Clair (4), Sears (3), and Castle (2), as well as one each by West, Bond, and Jackson Earnhardt.
Perhaps the most telling thing about the depth of the young Watauga roster was toward the end when it was mostly bench players on the floor for the Pioneers. They moved the ball around the court with precision, as well as unselfishly, always in search of the open man to take the best shot opportunity in space.
Afterwards, in speaking with reporters Sanders modestly downplayed his accomplishment and deferred to Lentz as “a great man.” He said, “I am blessed to have been able to call him my friend and my mentor.”
Sanders added that he was particularly glad that older players like senior Zach West and juniors Jaiden Bond and Anderson Castle were able to participate in this game because they have been big contributors in recent years. But he also was thankful that younger players like St. Clair, Jonah Martin, Ben Ricker, and Jackson Earnhardt had the opportunity to be a part of it, too, because they get a sense of history in the program.
At 6-5 in league play and 11-9 overall, Watauga now has a 2-game lead over St. Stephens for fourth place in the Northwestern Conference standings, with three games to play. While the Pioneers control their own destiny in securing a 4th place regular season finish and the #4 seed in the conference tournament, Sanders admitted that he would like to finish the season in third place, where Alexander Central currently resides.
“But we need a little help,” said the coach who has been at the helm of the Pioneer men’s program for the last 15 campaigns.
Both Watauga and Alexander Central have three games remaining. Two of each team’s games are against heavily favored Freedom and Hickory. For the last game of the season, ACHS plays a rivalry game against South Caldwell on their home court, while Watauga hosts West Caldwell at Lentz Eggers Gym.
- 11 – Joshatrin Ikard
- 9 – Zane McPherson
- 9 – Mathew Walker
- 8 – Mikey Daaboul
- 8 – Ji Ikard
- 3 – Jaejuan Freeman
- 3 – Charlie Woy
- 2 – Jayden Burgess
- 23 – Blane St. Clair
- 12 – Jaiden Bond
- 11 – Zach West
- 9 – Jake Sears
- 6 – Anderson Castle
- 4 – Ethan Rothrock
- 3 – Jackson Earnhardt
- 3 – Luke Robbins
- 2 – Jonah Martin
- 2 – Grant Oliver
- 2 – Bennett Ricker
- 2 – Andrew Freeman