By Bill Nestor
Last week brought a special holiday, and with it the opportunity to give thanks for all that we have. The blessings are indeed endless and, for me, being able to write this column every week is one that I appreciate and do not take for granted. When we last caught up, the main focus was on West Virginia’s basketball team and that is the place to be once again this week as Josh Eilert and his short-handed squad lost a pair of heart breaking decisions that told Mountaineer Nation a little more about the heart of this year’s edition.
West Virginia departed the Mountain State to lock up with Southern Methodist University Monday night in the opening game of the Fort Myers Tip-Off at Suncoast Credit Union Arena. Eilert was only going six players deep in his rotation due to injuries and suspensions. The Mountaineers were as hot as the Florida weather to start out the affair and held an 11 point halftime lead.. WVU went to a two-three zone to slow the pace of play and to help the players to steal a break on occasion during play.
The Mustangs went to a speed similar to their nickname in the second half and, coupled with some helpful whistles, started to gain momentum.
Eilert was scheduling timeouts instead of using them when they were needed. When your legs are tired, your shots don’t fall. This explains the 37 percent shooting from the field and 31.3 percent from three point range. The first ever meeting between the teams didn’t end the way Eilert wanted, and his team was left to play Virginia on Wednesday morning.
Last Tuesday, between games, Eilert and Wren Baker, vice president and director of athletics, prepared a joint statement in regards to RaeQuan Battle’s request to the NCAA for a waiver and now in his eventual appeal. They have both been denied and it has been an emotional roller coaster for Battle, the players, Eilert, Baker, the University, and the fans, all of whom have been adversely affected by the denials.
It says a great deal about Eilert and the players on the roster to come out the night before Thanksgiving and give the #24 team in the country everything that they could handle. There are no moral victories in major college hoops, but looking back at the 56 to 54 setback, WVU outscored the Cavaliers 31 to 30 in the final 20 minutes of basketball.
Maybe a visit from an old friend will help to ease the frustration surrounding the Battle situation. This Friday, Rick Pitino brings his St. John’s squad to the Colosseum to open up December play. Just five days later, the renewal of the Backyard Brawl takes place in Morgantown. Hopefully, these early Christmas presents will help ease the pain of a frustrating start to the hoops campaign.
The Bridgeport Indians came up just short of a trip to Wheeling. The Tribe has several state championships, but they were denied the opportunity to play for the Class AAA crown, losing a thriller to Princeton 73 to 70.
Bridgeport trailed 27 to 7 at the half and 49 to 29 after three periods of play. The Indians would go on an impressive run, scoring three consecutive touchdowns. The Tigers would recover an onside kick to end the Tribe’s comeback attempt.
Bridgeport was led by Tim Jeffress, Donovan Williams, Jack Spatafore, Josh Love, and Zach Rohrig. Jeffress had 260 rushing yards on 16 attempts and four touchdowns. Williams caught four passes for 148 yards and two scores. Spatafore was six of 14 passing for 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Love gained 125 yards on 21 attempts with two scores. Rohrig earned 108 yards on 14 carries and a pair of rushing touchdowns.
Bridgeport ended the year with an 11 and two record.