ZACK CRAIG: It’s about 280 miles from Morenci to West Liberty, W. Va., but that doesn’t stop Nelly and David Craig from watching their son, Zack, play basketball with West Liberty State College.
With a fast internet connection, the Craigs can sit at home and watch games through live internet streaming.
And there’s a lot of action to watch.
The Hilltoppers are known nationally for their high scoring games and they’re back at it again this season.
They opened play with a 125-62 victory over Salem International and followed that with a 119-50 win against Ohio University Eastern.
Craig, a 6-foot-5 206-pound guard, was injured early in the season last year, but he’s making an impression this year as a red-shirted freshman.
In the opening game, Craig scored 16 points in 12 minutes on the floor, shooting 57 percent overall and 48 percent from three-point range.
In the second contest, he tied for second leading scorer with 17 points, shooting 60 percent overall and in three’s. He also collected eight rebounds in the game.
Craig was a four-year starter at Morenci and broke his father’s scoring record to establish a new school mark with 1,606 points. He averaged 22 points a game and shot 50 percent from the perimeter.
The NCAA Div. II Hilltoppers led the nation in scoring last season with an average of 97.5 points a game. They broke the hundred mark in 13 contests.
West Liberty isn’t known only for its three-point shots, said Matt Watson of the college athletic department.
“We don’t just shoot the three,” he said. “We make the tempo really fast and force turnovers with our full-court pressure. We also are among the nation’s leaders in assists and steals each year.”
FAYETTE BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEW:With six letter-winners returning, five of them seniors, Fayette’s boys coach Todd Mitchell has some good experience on the floor this season.
He has some talent on the bench, as well, with a nine-man rotation and plenty of competition for starting positions.
“It makes practice a lot more competitive when they know they’re all going to play,” Mitchell said.
He aims to use his strong bench to his advantage to run an up-tempo game with plenty of fresh bodies to put on the floor.
“We should be able to be more aggressive with nine guys,” he said.
He expects the squad to put the pressure on at times.
“Defensively we’re really improved,” Mitchell said. “We’ll continually improve at the defensive end and the offense will come.”
Mitchell is also seeing an improvement in ball handling skills from the past season.
Senior Austin Hylander (6-2) returns as the top scorer, backed up by classmate Coty Griffiths. Both are second-year letter-winners.
Senior Shelby Franks is also back for a third varsity season and Eliott Richardson (6-3) returns for a second year. Ben Kovar is the fifth senior.
Mitchell will look to newcomers Evan Stoltzfus and Jason Rodriguez, plus sophomores Tyler Keefer and Darrell Randall to fill key spots on the team. Rodriguez and Keefer put in enough time with the varsity last season to win letters.
Three other players will see time on both the junior varsity and varsity: junior Travis Kline and sophomores Nelson Barnhiser and Hunter Colegrove.
“We played well in scrimmages against Wauseon and Hicksville,” Mitchell said.
An additional practice is scheduled at home Dec. 2 against Emmanuel Christian.
Coach Mitchell is looking forward to the BBC schedule because of the parity he expects to see.
“This should be one of the more balanced years in a long time,” he said. “It’s wide open.”
North Central has a freshman to watch—a kid who could dunk the ball as an eighth grade student. Pettisville and Stryker lost personnel through graduation, but still have good talent. Hilltop should be improved.
It’s going to be balanced and competitive, Mitchell said, and every league game should be a challenge for most everyone in the conference.
First on the Eagles’ agenda is to avenge a loss to Morenci last season when the two teams resumed an old cross-border rivalry.
The Bulldogs traveled to Fayette to post a win last year; Coach Mitchell intends to turn the table this time around.
The league season opens at Stryker Dec. 11.
FAYETTE GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Fayette girls basketball coach Ashley Oyer knows the challenge for her squad this year: Put more points on the scoreboard.
She was generally pleased with the Eagles’ defensive intensity last season—Oyer’s first with the squad—but offense was another story.
“We were getting the shots off,” she said. “They just were getting them through the basket.”
She’ll add one more complaint on the offensive side—far too many turnovers last season—but the criticism ends there.
She has seven letter-winners back, four of them seniors, and she believes she’s seeing an improved squad.
“I’ve been pleased with the way we’ve held our own,” Oyer said following a scrimmage last week at Swanton. “I think we’ll be a lot more fun to watch this season.”
She’s not forgetting something she liked the most about the Eagles last season: They never gave up.
“These are tough-nosed kids who are never going to back down,” she said. “They take pride and they play hard all night.”
Last season’s leading scorer was guard Rachel Seiler who started as a freshman. Junior forward Katelyn Downing was close behind, followed by senior guard Danni Wyse, a three-year letter-winner.
Other seniors returning to the squad are two-year letter-winners Trish Bates, a forward, Mara Raker, guard, and Brittany Seiler forward. Junior guard JeriAnn Lewellen is also back for a second season.
Three juniors have moved up from last year’s junior varsity team: 6-foot forward Heather Cuff and two guards, Elisha Hartman and Jacy Lewellen.
Two sophomores will alternate between varsity and junior varsity: guard Andrea Canfield and forward Amber Scott.
Oyer looks for her squad to run a faster-paced, more aggressive game. The team has also worked to improve its perimeter game.
Coach Oyer figures that Pettisville is the team to beat this season in the BBC, but Stryker still has good talent returning. She’s hoping to see the Eagles in the race, as well.
Fayette opens the season Friday with a non-league contest at Liberty Center. The league season gets underway at home against Edon Dec. 5.
Update: Katelyn Downing suffered an ACL injury and will miss the season.