MORGANTOWN - The Morgantown-Wheeling Park matchup features powerful post players in Nathan Adrian and Boo Lathon, both averaging about 20 points per game. However, Friday night, in the Class AAA Region One, Section One final, it mostly featured Errin Baynes.
While the big men battled it out defensively, Baynes, a guard who averages 13 points per game, scored 33 points and led the Patriots (19-5) to a 51-41 victory.
''Up to this point, (Baynes) had 26 points against us (in three previous games this season)," Morgantown coach Tom Yester said. ''But he did better than that (Friday night). I had no idea that he would go off for that many. But he just had a fantastic game. Didn't make any difference who guarded him, we didn't seem to do that well with him.''
Wheeling Park’s Errin Baynes (3) exploded for 33 points Friday.
Photo by Jason DeProspero/The Dominion Post
Meanwhile, Park's Vondel Bell went to work on Adrian, holding the MHS star to seven points, and both Wheeling Park coach Michael Jebbia and Yester knew how much that hurt.
''When it comes to Morgantown, we know each other so well,'' Jebbia said. ''It's just gonna come down to some little things. We made free throws and we got some stops. I thought we did a super job on Nathan Adrian. Nathan's a very good player. He's gonna score some points, but we wanted to make him work.''
Added Yester: ''If we can't get Adrian open for any more shots than that, we're gonna be in trouble. But he did a great job defensively against Boo.''
In turn, Adrian held Lathon to eight points, but Park still came out on top around the basket. The Patriots outrebounded the Mohigans (18-6) for the first time in four matchups this season.
''Around the rim, we looked weak, they looked strong, and maybe that's the difference between juniors and seniors,'' Yester said. ''Frankly, we knew we had to control the boards, and they got some tip-outs and tip-arounds. That wasn't so many second-chance points, but it was control of the ball.''
After a back-and-forth first half, the Patriots gradually pulled away to a 29-20 point lead in the third quarter. Morgantown put together a comeback effort. With a 38-33 score and 2:29 left in the game, Lathon was called for a charge, and Adrian hit a big shot to cut the lead to three. But that was as close as it got.
MHS's Austin Agnew (eight points) came up with several offensive rebounds and baskets, but Baynes answered every time. He drained seven of his last eight free throws to close out the game.
''We had our chances,'' Yester said. ''We had it down to three, and can't finish it again. Can't get the ball to somebody that can finish the play. So we just have to work on that, and hopefully be able to finish on Tuesday.''
Both teams play Tuesday in Class AAA Region One co-finals. Morgantown will take on Fairmont Senior at Fairmont. Wheeling Park earned home-court advantage against East Fairmont. The winners will advance to the state tournament in Charleston.
Baynes knows the importance of the home court as well as anyone. He said it was in the back of his mind going into Friday's sectional contest.
''This was a must win,'' he said. ''This was for home court for the regional finals. And it will be my last home game. I'm a senior and I'm going to USC next year, so this will be my last time to play at The Palace.''