By David Rogers. January 2, 2019. HUDSON, NC — When your starters get into foul trouble, good basketball teams have quality depth on their bench to take up any slack. Visiting Watauga showcased its deep bench on Tuesday, running by South Caldwell’s men, 88-63, to open Northwestern Conference play.
COVER IMAGE: Blane St. Clair blistered the net for a team-high 29 points. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Head coach Rob Sanders told reporters after the game that before the Pioneers took the court he advised them, “At the end of the night, half of the conference is going to undefeated and the other half is going to be winless. In which half do you want to be?”
Without question, it was a hungry Pioneer side that took the court against South Caldwell. Like their distaff counterparts, the Watauga men entered the first league match-up with a 4-4 overall record, including wins in four of the most recent five games. Sanders observed to Blowing Rock News, “With all of the guys we have who also play football, we have been slow to introduce all of our press defense packages. With the holidays, we have been able to practice on some of those and the guys executed very well with them tonight.”
And press they did, forcing numerous turnovers and breakaway points off of steals. It was the pesky kind of defense that Watauga teams have been known for and against this opponent, at least, they pestered the Spartans to perfection.
It didn’t start out so easy nor clear-cut. Watauga starters Zach West, Jaiden Bond, and Ethan Rothrock all got into early foul trouble and were forced to sit for most of the first half. Fortunately for the Pioneers, a trio of junior guards stepped up to take some pressure off of sophomore playmaking forward Blane St. Clair, who poured in a team-high 29 points, including five 3-pointers and 4-of-4 shooting from the charity stripe.
Junior guard Jake Sears had a career-type night in coming off the bench to add 17 points, which included five 3-pointers of his own. Anderson Castle added 15 and reserve Jackson Earnhardt contributed nine points, all from beyond the three-point arc.
Even with West, Bond and Rothrock seeing little first half action after each picked up two early fouls, the Pioneers were good to go-go-go-go. St. Clair, Sears, Castle, and Earnhardt led the Pioneers on a 28-point scoring outburst in the second quarter, rallying from an opening minutes deficit to lead 22-19 at the end of the first quarter and then 50-43 at intermission.
Thanks largely to Sears’ 11 points in the third quarter alone, the Pioneers began to open up the lead, taking a 69-53 advantage into the final period. In each of the third and fourth quarters, Watauga outscored South Caldwell, 19-10.
The fast-paced action resulted in 37 fouls being called, Watauga with 18 and South Caldwell with 19. The Pioneers were 10-of-14 in shooting from the foul line, while the Spartans only managed 1-for-6 from their scorers.
Watauga resumes Northwestern Conference play on Friday against the always dangerous Alexander Central Cougars (8-3, 1-0) in Lentz Eggers Gym. The Cougars defeated West Caldwell, 53-47 on Tuesday. Tipoff is scheduled for 8:00 pm.
Shane St. Clair, 29 points, including five-3-pointers and 4-of-4 from the free throw line
- Jake Sears, 17 points, including five 3-pointers and 3-of-3 from the free throw line
- Anderson Castle, 15 points
- Jackson Earnhardt, 9 points, including three 3-pointers
- Ethan Rothrock, 4 points
- Ben Ricker, 3 points
- Jackson Greene, 3 points
- Zach West, 2 points
- Grant Oliver, 2 points
- Luke Robbins, 2 points,
- Jonah Martin, 2 points
- Justin Eggers, 34 points
- Colby Collins, 11 points
- Avery Raynor, 9 points
- Spencer Piercy, 4 points
- Trey Ramsey, 3 points
- Austin Raynor, 2 points