By David Rogers. December 20, 2018. BOONE, NC — As non-conference rivalry games go, Thursday night’s tilt between Watauga and Wilkes Central lived up to expectations. The Pioneers defended their home court against an Eagles opponent that just wouldn’t go away, 75-73.
Although Wilkes Central won the first game of the annual home-and-home early season match-up, 82-54, that was against a far different Pioneer team that what took the floor Thursday night in front of a jam-packed crowd at Lentz Eggers Gym. On December 4th in Moravian Falls, Watauga’s football athletes-turned-hardwood court players were only a couple of days removed from the 2018 gridiron season that took them into the 3AA West bracket quarterfinals where they lost to eventual state champion, Weddington. Not only had those gridders not found their basketball “sea legs,” they had not been to basketball practice.
Unlike Tuesday night, sophomore playmaker Blane St. Clair stayed out of early foul trouble to register a game-high 22 points to lead the Pioneers — even though he again fouled out late in the fourth quarter. The football “crossovers” accounted for the bulk of Watauga’s scoring balance, including Anderson Castle (16 points), Jaiden Bond (13), Zach West (8), and Ethan Rothrock (8).
At points during the game, Watauga expanded its lead to nine points and looked to be running away for a convincing win, but the Eagles always seemed to battle back in spite of four key players in foul trouble. Daylon Banks led Wilkes Central with 19 points, but also in double figures for the Eagles were Noah Johnson (15), Ahmond Osborne (13) and Zoman Gwyn (13).
There were times when St. Clair seemed willing to put Watauga on his shoulders, with sparkling play after sparkling play both inside and outside. Other times, his youth and still developing basketball IQ were exposed when he tried to do too much.
In the fourth quarter, Bond and West also made some key buckets to keep the Pioneers in front. Bond, still a junior, sliced down the lane between defenders for far-side, spinning layups. And when talking about clutch, Castle’s 7-0f-8 shooting from the charity stripe — in the 4th quarter alone — cannot be overlooked.
None among the Pioneers has been more surprising than the development of 6-3 forward Rothrock, who not only came down with key rebounds to stop Wilkes Central scoring threats, but his eight points of offense came at key moments. Pioneer head coach Rob Sanders admitted to Blowing Rock News afterwards that he was really pleased with Rothrock’s development as a player this year. “He has worked hard and is gaining confidence in going to the hoop, from both inside and outside. He may be our tallest player, but he is really a 6-3 guard. He can knock it down from outside as well as anybody.”
Sanders noted that the Wilkes Central-Watauga rivalry is one of those treasured basketball affairs. Previously undefeated, the Eagles swept through their non-conference schedule with convincing, even dominating wins except for the loss to Watauga and a nailbiter victory over North Iredell a day earlier (66-65).
“When you play a rivalry game,” Sanders said, “one or the other team being unbeaten doesn’t matter. Wilkes Central head coach Matt Hagaman and I are good friends. Even though this is an intense rivalry, we don’t allow anything (bad) to happen.”
Unquestionably, this contest had all the trappings of a rivalry game, including fast-paced dynamic plays both offensively and defensively, as well as a certain physicality. Of the players who scored points during the game, each side committed 26 fouls. Three Eagles fouled out. Only St. Clair fouled out for the Pioneers, but Castle, Bond and Jackson Greene were living on the edge, with four fouls apiece.
Wilkes Central has not won on Watauga’s home court since 1999, WATA radio’s Mike Kelly shared with Blowing Rock News during the game. It looks like they’ll have to wait another year for that opportunity.
- Daylon Banks (3 fouls), 19 points (2-4-6-7), including two 3-pointers
- Noah Johnson (5 fouls), 15 points (1-2-3-9), one 3-pointer
- Marcus Lopez (no fouls), 7 points (0-4-0-3), one 3-pointer
- Ahmond Osborne (1 foul), 13 points (2-7-4-0), two 3-pointers
- Levi Church (5 fouls), 2 points (0-0-2-0)
- Caleb Killian (1 foul), 2 points (0-2-0-0)
- Skyler Brooks (5 fouls), 2 points (0-0-2-0)
- Zoman Gwyn (4 fouls), 13 points (6-2-2-3)
- Zach West (3 fouls), 8 points (0-4-0-4)
- Andrew Freeman (no fouls), 2 points (0-2-0-0)
- Anderson Castle (4 fouls), 16 points (0-5-4-7)
- Jaiden Bond (4 fouls), 13 points (7-0-2-4)
- Jackson Greene (4 fouls), 2 points (2-0-0-0)
- Grant Oliver (3 fouls), 3 points (3-0-0-0)
- Blane St. Clair (5 fouls), 22 points (2-6-8-6)
- Ethan Rothrock (3 fouls), 8 points (2-0-4-2)
- Luke Robbins (no fouls), 1 point (0-1-0-0)