GRAFTON—After starting last season with a 3-12 record heading into the month of February, the Grafton Bearcats boys’ basketball team knew that in order to make a run to the postseason, things would have to change drastically for them.
The Bearcats buckled down, made some adjustments, and used pure heart and hustle to win their eight of their last 11 games to advance to the state tournament in Charleston.
“It was a testament to their hard work, dedication, and continued belief not only in us as a coaching staff, but as a staff, believing in them as athletes,” said Bearcats head coach Michael Johnson after his team’s first round loss to eventual state champion Chapmanville.
The Bearcats look to build off the momentum of that run and continue their strong play into this season, as they return a solid nucleus of players with postseason success to their credit.
At Johnson’s disposal will be seniors Jack Faulkner, Logan Beltner, Matthew Gallo, Joey Charlton, and Isaiah Stottlemyer, juniors Blake Moore, Dante Owens, Andrew Gallo, Luke Wiseman, Carson Lambert, and Mason Kinsey, and sophomores Ryan Maier, Tanner Moats, Kaden Delaney, James Helmondollar, Matthew Helmondollar, Justin Spiker, Aiden Hartley, and Cayden Boylen.
“We have a solid bunch of kids coming back from our state tournament team,” Johnson noted. “We have three seniors coming back with lots of varsity experience. Jack was a 3rd Team All-State selection and is a three-year starter. Matt and Logan both bring lots of experience and can both score the ball. Beltner is versatile and can play both inside and outside.”
Junior Blake Moore, who suffered a knee injury late last season, will be back in the lineup as well as sophomore Ryan Maier, who contributed immediately last season as a freshman.
“We expect to have Blake back sometime in January and he is a two-year starter for us,” explained Johnson. “And we have sophomore Ryan Maier returning, who was our third leading scorer on the team. Kaden Delaney and Tanner Moats will see the varsity floor, and we expect to get minutes from Dante Owens and Justin Spiker as well.”
Johnson, who is entering his 5th season as the head coach of the Bearcats, will again be assisted by coaches Arthur Knight and Hartsel Keener. They have also added the services of Gentry Shrewsbury, a two-time state champion forward at Wyoming East High School who went on to have a successful career at Concord University.
The Bearcats will begin their preseason with a scrimmage at Webster County on Tuesday before hosting Braxton County in a scrimmage on Friday. Webster County is coming off a 28-0 season in which they went on to win the Class A State Championship over Parkersburg Catholic. Both scrimmages are scheduled to tip off at 6:00pm.
Grafton will begin their regular season on December 12th when they host the Liberty Mountaineers in the 1st Round of the Sam Bord Tournament at Scotty Hamilton Gymnasium. Other teams scheduled to participate are Philip Barbour and Trinity Christian.
Johnson added how the goals for his Bearcat basketball team have changed slightly after a successful 2018-19 campaign.
“We talked about this the other day. The goal now is to be the top seed in our section and we should be focusing on hosting a regional game at Grafton.”