WEIRTON - After losing about 80 percent of his scoring from a year ago to graduation and with one of the players he was counting on sitting on the bench in street clothes, veteran Weir High coach, Mike Granato, wasn't expecting much from his Red Riders in its season opener against North Marion.
Despite losing 52-37 to the Huskies, who are in their first year of competition in Class AA after declining enrollment moved them down a notch from Class AAA, Granato was pleased with his team's performance.
"We showed great improvement tonight from our scrimmages," Granato said. "This wasn't a 15-point game, It was more like a six- or seven-point game until we had to begin fouling going down the stretch. I can't tell you how pleased I was with the way my team played tonight against a team that was bigger than us in all five positions."
SEASON OPENER — Weir High’s Mitch Viakley looks for a teammate against the defensive pressure of North Marion’s Chase Banker during the mutual season opener at the Carl Hamill Fieldhouse. North Marion came away with a 52-37 victory.
The game had the appearance of a runaway in the first quarter as the Red Riders managed to score just four points on field goals by its two senior starters, Dylan Cassiadoro and Josh Groves. North Marion appeared to be on its way to a blowout leading 13-4 after the first period. A big factor was a stingy full court press that the Huskies applied forcing five first-period turnovers by the Red Riders.
Perhaps it was opening game jitters for the Riders because they seemed to settle down in the second period and even though they were outscored by two points, shots were going in and Red Riders were taking the ball to the basket.
North Marion took a 28-17 lead with them to the locker room at halftime.
North Marion 52, Weir High 37
North Marion 13 15 9 15 - 52
Weir High 4 13 16 4 - 37
NORTH MARION: Wilson 1 5-7 7, Richards 2 1-2 5, Martin 1 0-0 2, Banker 3 0-4 6, Opron 7 5-10 19, Cain 3 7-9 13. Totals: 17 18-32 52. Rebounds: 32 (Cain, 9); Turnovers 15.
WEIR HIGH: Knight 0 0-0 0, Wood 0 0-0 0, Viakley 1 2-2 4, Davis 2 0-0 6, Cassiadoro 2 2-2 6, Groves 5 4-9 16, Smith 1 0-0 2, Curtis 1 1-2 3. Totals: 12 9-15 37. Three-pointers: Davis and Groves 2 each; Rebounds 13 (Groves 5); Turnovers 18.
Things changed in the third quarter as the Red Riders outscored the Huskies 16-9 and got to within four points at 37-33 going into the final stanza.
"They are bigger than us and I thought North Marion did a good job in the first half of forcing us out," Granato, who is beginning his 14th season at the helm of the Red Riders. "They also disguised their defenses well."
The bigger North Marion players had a huge edge in rebounds getting to 32 missed shots to only 13 for the Red Riders, who were without the services of 6-3 junior Andre Simms. Simms, who lettered last year, injured his hand in a preseason accident and should be returning soon, according to Granato.
"We called two early timeouts to try to make adjustments against what they were doing," Granato continued. "With a veteran team, you can do that on the fly, but sometimes with a younger team you have to do it by putting them on the bench and talking to them. That's what we did, substituting frequently.
"I thought that what happened in the second quarter was that we made a couple shots and when we did that we began to defend better. Then, North Marion couldn't make the easy shots so they had more difficulty getting into the defense they wanted to be in. We weathered that early storm and made a great run in the third quarter, but kind of ran out of gas in the end."
During the fourth quarter, where the Huskies limited Weir High to just four points again while scoring 15 themselves, coach Chris Freeman began to utilize his superior size by getting the ball inside to 6-4 junior center, Cody Opron.
Both teams had trouble finding the basket early in the finial period, but Opron opened the scoring at the 4:49 mark when he took a nice feed and went to the basket for a layup. Senior Matt Cain followed that with another from close in to expand the Husky lead to 41-33.
"You have to give Weir a lot of credit. We got out to the early lead putting pressure on them, but they got back into the game in the third quarter by putting the pressure on us," explained Freeman, whose team also was opening the season. "Their zone gave us problems and we couldn't get the ball inside. When we did get it in we were pretty dominant.
"I watched the Weir girls team play before us and they had a lot of fight in them. I told our guys before the game that this team isn't going to die. You're not going to put them away and that's exactly what happened."
A long three by Shane Davis, one of two in the game by the Weir High senior, narrowed the North Marion lead to five points, but the Huskies went on an 11-1 run down the stretch making 9 of 14 free throws. They made 18 of 32 from the charity stripe, while the Red Riders canned nine of 15.
Groves, who scored 11 points in the second half, was the only Weir High player in double figures. He scored 16 points and was his team's leading rebounder with five.
Cain was the only other Husky in double figures with 13 points. He led all rebounders grabbing nine off the glass.
The Red Riders will continue an early season homestand hosting Oak Glen next Tuesday at the Carl R. Hamill Fieldhouse.