By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian
PLEASANT VALLEY —
“Backstreet Boys! Backstreet Boys! Backstreet Boys!” the East Fairmont student section jeered at North Marion’s basketball team Wednesday night.
Perhaps it was a jab at the Huskies’ blond haircuts. Maybe they were comparing their masculinity to that of a ’90s boy band. Or it could be that “The Swarm,” as the section calls itself, was simply trying to get the basketball players’ minds off the game.
Whatever the reason for the cheer, North Marion let its playing do the talking... or singing maybe. When the final buzzer sounded, the five Huskies were the ones who could sing “I Want It That Way” after rolling into East Fairmont’s gym and defeating the Bees, 54-47.
But enough with the ’90s and back to the future where North Marion (3-0, 2-0 Big 10) took early control of Marion County— and perhaps the Big 10, too — by knocking off its second county team in the young season.
“The biggest thing for us is it kind of puts us in the driver’s seat in terms of sectional seeding,” North Marion coach Chris Freeman said. “The ultimate goal is to be the one seed and give yourself the best position to get to Charleston. I know it’s early, but that’s what it meant to us.”
In-county games are always big. Against East Fairmont, that’s quite literal. The Bees (1-2, 0-2 Big 10) boast one of the largest lineups in the conference with three of their five starters over 6-foot-tall, including 6-foot-5 Myles Johnson and Ian Hayhurst and 6-foot-6 Nick Greely.
Yet it was North Marion’s big man, Cody Opron, who loomed largest in victory. For the third straight game the 6-foot-7 senior center
posted a double-double. Sporting a blond Mohawk — “Basketball thing. Team bonding,” he explained — he put up 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“It’s a great feeling to come out and be the big man,” he said. “The key to stopping them is don’t let Myles (Johnson) drive the ball. Let him pull up from 15 feet. And Greely, you need to deny him the ball.”
The formula worked for the Huskies, especially in the first half. North Marion took a 31-21 halftime lead thanks in large part to the outside shooting of Matt Martin. The senior scored 16 of his team-leading 19 points in the first half, 12 of which came from 3-pointers.
“Matt is a great shooter,” Opron said. “He wasn’t shooting there for the longest time, and we kept pounding it in his head, just keep shooting and it will come. And it finally came right when we needed him.”
But in an in-county rivalry game, the trailing team rarely goes down without a fight. East Fairmont fought back from the double-digit deficit and cut the lead to just a single basket several times in the third quarter.
Ronnie Mills, who was the second-leading scorer on the Bees with 9 points behind only Myles Johnson’s 12, swished a corner three at the end of the period to pull East Fairmont within two at 38-36 with eight minutes to play.
“We didn’t make a whole lot of adjustments. We started running and executing what we were supposed to be doing for that little run,” East Fairmont coach Tyrone Asterino said. “It’s a shame that our guys don’t understand yet that that’s how they’re supposed to play for four quarters.”
North Marion built its lead back near double digits in the fourth, but East Fairmont didn’t go away. The Bees chipped away and were within two possessions of a win with 30 seconds remaining, but could never seize the lead.
Both teams are in action again on Saturday in the Cardinal Challenge. East Fairmont will take on Sissonville, and North Marion will battle Chapmanville.
Email Mike DeFabo at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.