PLEASANT VALLEY — Fairmont Senior’s Courtney Wilfong didn’t hesitate when given the opportunity at a fitting finale for her high school career.
“Everyone wants to play with their best friend,” Wilfong reasoned at the idea of playing alongside long-time teammate Anysa Jordan in the aftermath of the annual North-South All-Star Classic on Sunday at East Fairmont High School, which the North won 84-60. “Obviously I thought our last game together was the championship game, but being able to go out there and play with her one last time, it was just amazing.”
“I knew I was gonna have my PG so I would be fine,” said Jordan of her partnership with Wilfong, where she said she thought the two broke new ground for the Fairmont Senior program as the first pair of teammates to play in the game.
The companionship between Wilfong and Jordan was a crutch for both players to lean on entering the game, a relationship on the hardwood that dates back to fourth grade and netted them two state titles together in high school. But, to both players’ surprise, that sort of years-long friendship wasn’t needed as an all-encompassing buttress in Sunday’s game amongst what were mostly foreign teammates.
“Usually people don’t click that fast, but we did and it was extremely fun,” said Wilfong, who scored six points to go with four rebounds and two assists in the game. “I liked playing with every single one of them; like I can’t even pick out a single person.”
“I knew a couple of them, but most of them I didn’t know,” said Jordan, who finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and three steals. “I think playing with them gave me a taste of what playing with other people is like because I’ve been playing with the same girls since I was in the fourth grade. So it was nice to get that experience, and it was just a lot of fun overall.”
Touting that sort of dreamy, lovey-dovey chemistry with basically two-days-long teammates screams PR-spin-style statements by Jordan and Wilfong. But after watching Sunday’s game, it’s hard to peg their sentiments as anything but fully genuine.
The North, coached by Trinity’s Mike Baldy and Williamstown’s Fred Sauro, looked like a team united for months if not years under the umbrella of modern-day basketball axioms, such as pace-and-space offense and defensive switching.
Its cadre of ball handlers in Wilfong, Frankfort’s Abby Beeman, who won team MVP, Trinity’s Reagan Sharp and Bridgeport’s Emily Riggs were given free reign by Baldy and Sauro to jumpstart fastbreaks with aggressive pushes. The team’s four-out spacing afforded room for rip-through drives from virtually anyone with an off-the-bounce advantage and paved the way for straight-up nasty pick-and-roll combinations, such as Beeman and Jordan and Sharp and Madonna’s Andrea Alimario.
The team’s sharpshooters like Beeman, Notre Dame’s Taylor Martino, Tucker County’s Riley Evans and Parkersburg South’s Sierra Hays were given green lights to fire with gusto as the quartet jacked 25 treys, making eight of them.
“I could’ve shot better of course,” said Beeman, whose 3-of-11 showing from deep in the game and 33-of-75 effort from downtown en route to winning the 3-point contest didn’t meet her lofty standards, “but (winning MVP) was a big honor.”
The synthesis of the roster offensively made for an aesthetically-pleasing experience, one where every player slotted into their role despite all of them typically asserting themselves as the go-to star on their respective high school teams.
Beeman and Sharp were the primary distributors, dishing six and five assists, respectively, to lead the North’s 19 combined assists on 30 made field goals. They careened into the lane and zipped in transition, with Beeman delivering multiple saucy behind-the-back dimes and Sharp kicking out to shooters, including an incredible save along the baseline which went right to Martino for a triple.
Jordan’s lithe pivots and soft hands slicing to the basket formed the perfect tag-team with Beeman, who gleamed at the luxury of playing with a true post presence. Ditto for Alimario’s silky skill set. Reserves such as pesky Buckhannon-Upshur defender Audrey Gaudet and rebounding maven Bethany Arnold of Williamstown were more than willing to be the offense’s junkyard dogs as canny passers, cutters and crashers.
“If only I could’ve made more layups,” said Jordan laughing, who said a week-long trip to the beach — of course, with Wilfong — sapped her of a bit of her touch. “I came back and was like, ‘Ya know, if I don’t make shots, I’m sorry.’ But as long as we got the win, that’s all that matters.”
On the other end, the North was malleable and pliant defensively, so adaptable and scaleable both mentally and physically that Baldy and Sauro were comfortable flip-flopping between standard man-to-man, Baldy’s 3-2 half-court trap he utilizes at Trinity and a 2-3 zone. It was the ultimate testament to the basketball acumens of a group of all-stars well beyond their years.
“It was a little off at first. I kept trying to go to man and they were like, ‘Nah, sit back in the 3-2,’” Jordan said of the 3-2 trap, despite playing under coach Corey Hines at Fairmont Senior, who has tinkered with seemingly every kind of pressure defense there is.
“I’ve done the OVAC all-star game before and I had fun doing that,” Baldy said, “but Fred and I wanted to do a little more coaching than I had done in the past. We didn’t overcoach them — I mean they’re the best players in the northern part of the state — but I ran my 3-2 trap and Fred did his half-court dribble-drive (offense) he likes to run. And we made a couple of substitution patterns for strategic stuff.
“But other than that we just wanted to put the girls in the best position to win the game and have fun.”