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Williamstown shuts down Van, earns state berth

Photo by Josh Hughes Williamstown’s Eli Inman attempts to dribble around Van’s Byron Stewart during Wednesday night’s 74-50 Williamstown win in a Region IV co-final. Williamstown gained the top seed in the Class A state tournament with the win.

WILLIAMSTOWN — The mantra of the 2019-20 Williamstown Yellowjackets is to spread the ball and make opponents defend multiple shooters. They used that method to punch their ticket to Charleston.

Xavier Caruthers led the maroon and gold with 17, as Peyton Amrine (16 points) and Eli Inman (13 points) finished in double-figures. In the 74-50 Wednesday night win over visiting Van in a Region IV co-final, the Yellowjackets took care of business and secured the top seed in the Class A tournament. Now, they play No. 8 Tug Valley in the state quarterfinal round at 5:30 p.m. next Thursday.

The six-win Bulldogs put up a fight in the early going, as a 34-25 Williamstown lead going into the half got WHS head coach Scott Sauro thinking about how to close out the visitors.

“I thought in the first half, we turned the ball over. I think we had eight turnovers at halftime,” Sauro said. “I think we had some first-half jitters, and the kids understood the magnitude of this game. To our kids’ credit, they made plays when they needed to. I don’t think we shot it great, but we did enough to win. We’ll go down and give our best effort. That balance in scoring has been our M.O. the whole year, and it makes you tougher to guard when you spread it out.”

WHS (24-1) picked up the pace after the break behind a 40-27 second half, as a barrage of high-percentage shots buried the Bulldogs. Inman hit the first one of the half to make it 36-25, then Caruthers nailed a 3-ball to further extend the lead. When it seemed Van was about to be rolled over, the away team had one last surge. Austin Javins hit the final shot of a 9-3 run with 2:12 left in the third to make it a single-digit deficit, but Williamstown stormed through a potential comeback attempt with the last nine points of the quarter to balloon the advantage up to 55-37.

The upset-minded Bulldogs ran out of gas in the late stages of the contest, but head coach Dave Gogas was proud of how his team fought to even get to this point in the season.

“(Williamstown) has a lot of options. Those guys shoot the ball really well,” he said. “We scheduled tough to give our guys a challenge. I then realized we probably scheduled a little too tough, and our record showed it. We were fortunate to put it together at the right time and upset some of the higher-ranked teams in the section. If it wasn’t for a 3-4 minute stretch (in the loss against Tug Valley), we could have saved ourselves the road trip.”

After the nets were cut down, Williamstown’s Caruthers talked about what needs to happen in order for the top-ranked ‘Jackets to finish the job and take home the school’s first Class A boys’ basketball title in more than 50 years.

“We work hard as a team, and we play better as a team,” he said. “We’ve got to rebound. That’s what it takes. I think we have a pretty good shot at taking it home. We’ve been ranked as the No. 1 team in the state all year, so I don’t see why we can’t do it.”

Contact Josh Hughes at jhughes@newsandsentinel.com

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