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‘Jackets earned stripes in Charleston with grit

WILLIAMSTOWN — Fresh off the Williamstown Yellowjackets’ 50-47 win over Poca in the 2021 Class AA boys’ state championship basketball game, the feeling of jubilation hasn’t worn off head coach Scott Sauro. The victory came a year removed from when his ‘Jackets were the No. 1 seed in the Class A tournament. The COVID-19 pandemic was sweeping across the state when the 2020 games in Charleston came to a halt. That just meant Williamstown had unfinished business in 2021, and it didn’t matter who they needed to face.

Last season’s team was heavy in senior talent, but the 2021 ‘Jackets still had plenty of firepower. The new four-class system saw Williamstown thrust into Class AA, but Sauro’s bunch took care of opposition like it always did. The up-tempo, perimeter-shooting team cut through most teams en-route to a 17-1 record in the abbreviated 2021 season. The contributions of leading scorers Sam Cremeans (21.7 ppg) and Xavier Caruthers (14.1 ppg) gave the Yellowjackets’ offense a big spark, and it helped the squad average 68.4 points per game heading into the state tournament. More than just them, Sauro was thankful for everyone stepping up when they were needed. Baylor Haught averaged a double-double through the trio of games at the Capitol, and it was his final rebound and championship-clinching free throws that put Poca away. Having made himself into a key facilitator for the ‘Jackets, point guard Garret Hill is another senior who was a key ingredient to the success of this team. After Poca forced several WHS turnovers to get back in the title game, Hill and the offense navigated through the Dots’ fullcourt press and never surrendered the lead. This guard-heavy team (which also featured Isaac Joy, Seth Hammer and leading bench-scorer Alex Irvin) also had room for Ryan Wager. He averaged seven points per contest and provided Sauro with valuable minutes off the bench. Like the other seniors on the team, he ended his Williamstown playing days on a high note.

Gavin Bosgraf started alongside Hill, Cremeans, Haught and Caruthers.

As the only non-senior starter, he left his impact when needed. Just in the championship, he snatched eight rebounds on the way to victory. He’ll headline next year’s senior class alongside Hammer, Joy and Trevor Oates.

Although the ‘Jackets have seen plenty of talented student-athletes graduate over the past couple years, Sauro is confident in this group’s toughness.

Another positive to take away is that sophomore big man Kent Wigal will return for his junior season with varsity experience already under his belt.

“It validated the fact that we got the No. 1 seed this year and last year,” Sauro said of his team’s successful run in 2021. “We were voted the No. 1 seed, and I know there was a lot of doubt with that from other parts of the state, and I think winning (against Poca) is validation of that. There were seniors from last year who didn’t get a chance to compete in this tournament, and it’s validation of the work they did, as well.”

From a game-planning perspective, Sauro’s staff featuring Ross Mullenix, Tyler Satterfield and Ash Caruthers went straight to work after Poca defeated Charleston Catholic in the second Class AA semifinal. The group chose to run zone defense on Isaac McKneely and the Dots, as every other opponent they faced played man-to-man on them. The different look on defense paid huge dividends, as McKneely was held in check until late in the game. The decision to do that was something Sauro said had to be done.

“It was mostly that when we watched film of Poca, we noticed everybody played them man-to-man,” he said. “I think the reason they did that is because McKneely is such a good player. Nobody wanted to let him free, and it was the same thing we saw when we watched film of (semifinal opponent) Chapmanville. We played Chapmanville in a 2-3 zone for the same reason. If you haven’t played against a 2-3 zone, it can make the offense get pretty stationary, so sometimes they’re a little bit easier to guard. That’s why we went with a zone.”

Also cheering on the boys was WHS girls’ head coach, Fred Sauro.

The legendary coach watched his son’s team claim victory, and he even watched a bit of film in his spare time. Most of that film he watched was on Chapmanville, but Sauro credits Scott and his staff for the observations and adjustments they made to get the job done, saying that Scott “wouldn’t trade them for the world.” Seeing his son capture a state title evoked memories of his own triumph with the girls back in 2003, as he thinks the memory of that win will stay with those involved for a lifetime.

“It’s tremendous,” he said. “It’s just a feeling of elation, and that is so cool for him. I started taking him down to the state tournament when he was 10. We’re talking 1986 or 1987 since he was first down there to take in all the pagentry and all that. To do that here is really, really special for him. The whole community is elated. It’s just wonderful. This team got it done, because they were tough and gritty. Their mental toughness was awesome. We won the title back in 2003, and all those memories came flooding back. The entire community is just ecstatic about it.

Contact Josh Hughes at jhughes@newsandsentinel.com

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