SHORT GAP - It's hard, well in fact impossible, to quantify and rate a contest as the “best game ever.” For starters, that decision, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. There's also the issue that no matter how thrilling, tight, or exciting a contest may be, in most cases, the victor will come away with a much more positive feeling than the loser.
By Chapin Jewell
SHORT GAP - It’s hard, well in fact impossible, to quantify and rate a contest as the “best game ever.” For starters, that decision, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. There’s also the issue that no matter how thrilling, tight, or exciting a contest may be, in most cases, the victor will come away with a much more positive feeling than the loser.
While there is no way of truly gauging whether a matchup was the “best game ever,” this fact we do know. Whether it was or wasn’t, the reality is that many fans, be them Black and Gold or Columbia Blue and Silver-clad, walked out of Frankfort High School’s gymnasium Friday night convinced that Keyser’s one-point, 71-70 double overtime victory over Frankfort was in fact the “best game ever.”
Frankfort won the first game between the two by 17 points, but Keyser closed the gap considerably in the second game, still losing, but this time only by four points. Yes, Frankfort had won 12 straight games but Keyser had won 10 of their last 12, including the last five-straight. So looking at the momentum, and considering the fact that Frankfort had in fact recently lost senior leader JJ Blank to injury, there was absolutely a sense that the game truly could go either way.
From the opening tip, Keyser largely maintained a slight edge through most of the contest, but Frankfort hung close, never allowing the game to get out of reach. The Golden Tornado led 15-13 at the end of the first quarter and then 31-28 at halftime. Keyser’s largest lead at the close of a quarter came at the end of the third when the Tornado held a six-point, 46-40 advantage.
But Frankfort came back, outscoring Keyser 17-11 in the fourth frame to tie the game at the end of intermission and force overtime. In the first overtime, it was a dead heat with both teams scoring three points to force a second overtime with the game knotted up at 60-60. In the double-overtime session, Keyser was one-point better than the Falcons in earning the 71-70 dramatic victory.
“This one probably will go down as all-time classic. I was involved in a triple overtime game as a player, a few other tight games as a player, coach and fan, but WOW is all I can say. The term ‘March Madness’ was in full force at Short Gap for sure. Reading some peoples comments on Facebook, saying it’s the best game they have ever seen. It’s an awesome feeling that our program got to be involved in such a game,” Keyser coach John Haines Jr. explained.
The drama of a tight contest played out in front of a capacity crowd in Short Gap, with both teams well represented by large and enthusiastic fan bases. What’s interesting is that despite being hugely important, the sectional final was not even an elimination game. That fact most certainly did not damper the spirit of those assembled. The energy, the excitement and fervor all went off without incident, a sure sign of a healthy rivalry with a great deal of mutual respect, especially between the players.
According to Haines, “That was just great for Mineral County. I thought for as intense of an atmosphere as it was that everyone behaved accordingly. The players respected each other the whole night, that is how we coach them and they are raised. I applaud everyone involved on a great all-time classic high school basketball game that no one will ever forget.”
One aspect of the game that surely won’t be forgotten is the heroic play of Frankfort senior Jansen Knotts. Despite the loss, Knotts led all scorers in the contest with 37 points. Knotts scored five points in the first period and seven points in the second for 12 points at the half. In the second half, Knotts exploded for 25 additional points, with 10 in the third quarter, seven in the fourth quarter and eight in the overtime sessions.
According to Frankfort coach Scott Slider, “He can score inside, outside, he’s just a phenomenal player. He has so much ability. A lot of times it’s not respected. I feel like there are times he can be going to the foul line more, but he just plays so hard. He only sat 40-some seconds tonight, so his efforts are unspeakable really. It’s just amazing what he gives us.”
The praise heaped on Jansen Knotts for his performance was echoed by Keyser’s coach Haines, “Also, hats off to Jansen Knotts on a very special performance. He put his team on his back the whole game, he's a very special player, we wish him the best.”
Knotts was the only Falcon in double figures as next came Isaiah Knotts with nine points, Mason Davis with eight points, and Brady Whitacre with six points. Also scoring for the Falcons was Will Toye and David Blanco with four points apiece, and Brock Robinette with two points.
In the winning effort, Keyser got a combined 57 points from senior leaders Shawn See (20), Ryan Shoemaker (19) and PJ Kennedy (18). As the season has reached tournament time, all three seniors have stepped up considerably to lead their team down the stretch.
“Our three main guys that step up every night and get the job done, Shawn, Ryan and PJ, all had around 20 points. Those three truly lead their team on the court, those guys have the redemption needed to lead this team even further. I'm happy for them, because they were the only three on the team last year that resulted in a sectional loss at home. They are a special trio, that will go down as one of Keyser's best,” Haines explained.
Outside of the senior trio that scored in double figures, Keyser received seven points from Logan Proud, five points from Amare Kennedy, and one point each from Darius Redman and Darrick Broadwater.
“We are the most complete TEAM that I have ever coached. We had one starter in at the end of the game and he has been our leader all year. It was a total team effort. Players, coaches, managers, cheerleaders, fans, administration, all equal family,” Haines stated. “Keyser High School has a great one, I said it before the season started if they all buy in, then we will have a successful season. We as a program appreciate all the support from top to bottom.”
One issue that affected both teams was foul trouble. By the end of the game, Frankfort had five players fouled out and Keyser three. The Falcons were whistled 39 times in total, and Keyser 25 times, for a combined total of 64 fouls. As a result, both teams had to look towards the bench in the game’s crucial final minutes.
Keyser led by as much as eight points (48-40) early into the game’s final regulation quarter. With 27.9 seconds remaining in regulation, Frankfort’s Will Toye hit a free throw, was fouled, and connected on the free throw to tie the game at 57-57. Keyser’s Shawn See had an opportunity to end the game in regulation as he was sent to the line with .2 remaining, shooting two shots. Both buckets failed to connect and the game was sent into the first overtime.
In the first overtime, with Keyser leading 60-58, Jansen Knotts drew a foul, went to the line, and connected on both shots to tie the game at 60-60. Keyser inbounded the ball with 10.8 seconds remaining and were able to get a final shot off as time expired but it was no good. With the game tied 60-60, the two rivals went into double overtime.
In the game’s second overtime, Keyser’s Darrick Broadwater connected on one of two shots at the line with 25.7 seconds remaining to put Keyser up 69-65. Frankfort’s Brady Whitacre then nailed a three-pointer with 15.7 seconds remaining to inch Frankfort closer at 69-68.
Four seconds later, with 11 seconds remaining, Keyser’s Ryan Shoemaker hit two free throws to put Keyser up by three (71-68). Frankfort’s Jansen Knotts was fouled with 7.5 second remaining and hit both free throws to inch Frankfort to within one point (71-70) in the waning seconds of the contest. After two missed free throws from Keyser, Frankfort inbounded the ball with 6 seconds remaining but turned the ball over to Keyser to end the game.
“Well, the first half I would say our foul shots kept us in the game. We wanted to be aggressive and get to the rim, which we did, and we knocked our foul shots down. The second half and overtime it was just an all-out team effort. We had a refuse to lose attitude at all costs,” Haines stated. “We had players step up due to starters fouling out, even had Darrick (Broadwater) come in with just a minute left battling injury. We are the most complete TEAM that I have ever coached.
The beauty of it all is that while Keyser certainly gained an advantage with the victory by earning the right to host North Marion in one regional co-final, Frankfort was not eliminated from regional play, but now must travel to Fairmont Senior in the other regional co-final. Both games, Keyser hosting North Marion, and Frankfort traveling to Fairmont Senior, will be on Thursday, March 12, at 7 p.m.
Kudos to Keyser for beating their county rival by avenging two earlier losses to the Falcons and for playing so strong in the latter stages of the season. Kudos also to Frankfort for battling hard to force overtimes after trailing much of the game, and for fighting hard down the season’s final stretch without the assistance of senior JJ Blank, a major contributor lost to injury.
“Best game ever?” Whether it was or wasn’t, who is to say, that’s totally subjective. What we can say with certainty, however, is that both Mineral County teams put forth an epic effort, to the delight and satisfaction of the large fan bases assembled, and did so, in this pressure cooker, without incident. That’s something we all can be proud of. Here’s to hoping they both win Thursday’s contests and advance to the state tournament in Charleston.