Parkersburg South girls begin quest for repeat

PARKERSBURG -Like the other 23 teams who will be participating in the state girls basketball tournament over the next four days at the Charleston Civic Center, Parkersburg South is happy to be there.

But the only way the Patriots will be happy when they leave the capital city is with the state championship trophy.

South – which meets Hampshire at 7:15 p.m. today in an opening-round Class AAA game-not only is the top seed in the eight-team field, but it carries a 23-0 record. Plus, it is the defending state champion.

Coach Scott Stephens Patriots have an opportunity to be the first basketball team at Parkersburg South to both finish a season unbeaten and to win back-to-back state titles.

Not bad for a team that doesn’t have a senior on its roster.

The Patriots starting lineup is composed of four sophomores and junior guard Keya Bartlett, the team’s leading scorer with her 17 points per game average. She’s the leading 3-point shooter in school history and already owns the school record for steals in a game with a dozen swipes.

She is joined in the backcourt by point guard Taryn McCutcheon, a returning first team all-state selection who holds the South record for assists in a game with 14, which also is the amount of points she averages per game. McCutcheon already has given her verbal commitment to Michigan State University.

Power forward Carlie Wilson is South’s leading rebounder. She also averages 8 points per game. She’s joined at the forward spot by Katelyn Byrd, who continues to recover from an ACL injury suffered last season. An all-around player who runs the floor well and can score from the outside, Byrd has stepped up her game during the postseason.

Playing underneath the basket is center Anna Hayton, who continues to develop an offensive presence while still contributing her share of rebounds. In South’s 90-50 sectional championship win over Wheeling Park, she accounted for a career-high 32 points.

Coach Stephens has nothing but praise for his reserves, who would be starters on most other high school teams. Sharpshooter Laken Valentine gives South a spark off the bench. Katelyn Enoch is an outstanding ballhandler. Hannah Cothern is a strong defender.

There’s no doubt South has all the elements of a championship team. Of its top eight players, the lowest free throw percentage is 69. There’s simply no major weakness.

As the top seed, South drew the No. 8 team for its opening round game. Hampshire enters with a 12-11 record. It is led by senior point guard Taylor Harwood, who has recorded 138 assists. Its top scorer is sophomore forward Ericka Gordon, who averages 13.8 points per game. It possesses an outside threat in Mary Feaster, its top 3-point shooter.

Is South ready to make school history? On the media form for state tournament coaches, the final question asks “How is your team going into the state tournament? To which coach Stephens replied, “Healthy, fit as a fiddle and ready to dance.”

South is three victories away from dancing like no Patriot team ever has danced before.