Cougars get a gut check and victory

NEW MATAMORAS — “Who are those guys?”

That’s what actor Paul Newman’s character Butch said to actor Robert Redford’s character Sundance about the trackers pursuing them in a scene from the classic movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

That same question could’ve been posed by many prep basketball fans during and after Monday night’s Frontier-St. Marys tilt at Hank Morus Gymnasium.

What Frontier, a four-win team before the opening tip-off, did to the Class A, fifth-ranked Blue Devils (17-4) of Pleasants County, W.Va., was rally in the second half to win, 69-65, in overtime.

“After the last two game we played, I told the kids that it was gut-check (time),” said veteran FHS head coach Roger Kirkpatrick, whose Cougars (5-15) had fallen to Shenandoah, 48-24, and to Fort Frye, 66-38. “I’m just glad they won it on Senior Night.”

Of course, while basketball is a team sport, Frontier senior Landon Martin had a major role in the upset — and that’s what it was — the biggest, baddest basketball upset in the Mid-Ohio Valley this season.

All Martin did was score a career-high 24 points and grab 10 rebounds, a double-double. The 6-foot-3 frontcourt player also was solid on defense.

“I felt really confident coming into tonight,” Martin said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better Senior Night. It was a great all-around team effort.”

Mind you, now, Martin was shut out against the Zeps and wasn’t much of a factor versus the Cadets, either.

“He’s been struggling,” Kirkpatrick said, “and I’ve been struggling with him — and he’s been struggling with me. But on Senior/Parents night, he played the best game of his life.”

Senior Wyatt Smitley, Frontier’s top scorer on the season, agreed.

“Landon stepped up, and he led us,” he said.

Smitley himself had a good game as well with 20 points.

So did junior guard Toby Minder, who finished with 11 points, including two clutch freebies in the final seconds of OT that iced the game.

“Toby there making those two free-throws at the end, we couldn’t have won without him,” Martin said. “That was a big contribution, too.”

Then, there were freshman Logan Brookover, senior Caleb McLeish, senior Dalton Beaver, freshman Wade Smitley, and junior Mathias Steele, all of whom saw action in the game and contributed.

Junior Brent West wasn’t in uniform, because he’s scheduled for heart surgery in a couple of weeks. But he had to have been an inspiration for the Cougars.

“People underestimate us,” Wyatt Smitley said. “But I’m telling you right now when these guys play together, we’re unstoppable.”

Mark Barnhart was inclined to agree.

“Coach Kirkpatrick should be pleased,” said the St. Marys hoops boss after the game. “He plays one heckuva schedule, and Frontier’s a nice ballclub.”

So, who are those guys, again?

Well, on Monday night, they had a gut check and emerged as winners.

Ron Johnston is a Marietta Times sports writer, who can be reached at rjohnston@mariettatimes.com

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