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'Take me home, country roads'

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WEST VIRGINIA HUDDLE: Clinton Central players huddle around coach Whit Keadle at West Virginia State University during their game in the Big House Shootout on Monday.
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SCORING LEADER: Clinton Central's Ross Cripe, pictured during a game against Clinton Prairie last month, led the Bulldogs with 14 points in their loss to Cross Lanes Christian (W.Va.) at the Big House Shootout at Institute, West Virginia.
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LONG GAME TRIP: Clinton Central players arrive for their game in Institute, West Virginia.

BY ANDREW KRULL - akrull@ftimes.com

Clinton Central's basketball team and its coach Whit Keadle took a long drive for a high school game over the weekend, returning to Keadle's home area of West Virginia to play in the Big House Shootout on Monday.

And, yes, John Denver's “Take Me Home, Country Roads” was part of the road trip soundtrack.

“That's funny you should ask that,” Keadle said laughing. “At my kids' request, we played it as we crossed the state line.”

And beyond basketball, that was the purpose of the trip for Keadle.

“We had a real good time,” he said. “We didn't play as well as I would have liked, but we had a really good time on the road.

“The reason you go is for bonding and to get them out of their comfort zone, stay at a hotel … and get mentally tougher and that was part of it. … We have a couple kids that haven't really traveled much or been anywhere, so it was good for them.”

The Bulldogs lost their one game to Cross Lanes Christian (West Virginia) 61-46 as part of the three-day event. Keadle noted the Shootout features eight games on Monday, eight on Tuesday and nine on Wednesday and is played at West Virginia State University after being held in previous years at the Charleston Civic Center, site of West Virginia's state championships.

“How it came about, the school that I used to coach at used to have this three-day tourney,” he said, with the tourney featuring West Virginia teams and a few from Kentucky. “They asked if I'd be interested and we had an opening on our schedule.”

Keadle served as an assistant at George Washington High School in West Virginia for seven years under head coach Rick Greene.

“The head coach there is the guy that organized and started this, so we played in it every year,” Keadle said.

The original idea from Greene when it was at the Charleston Civic Center was to give “kids an opportunity to play on that floor” where the state championships are held “that wouldn't have the opportunity ever,” he added. It grew from there, and the trip had some personal importance for Keadle as well.

“My family was able to come and see us play,” he said. “That was the most important thing for me. I don't get to see them a whole lot. … It was good to see the old coaches and a few of the players I had there.”

West Virginia is not without basketball history. After all, the NBA logo, Jerry West, starred there in high school in the '50s and led West Virginia University to a NCAA tournament runner-up finish as a junior in 1959.

“He's from right around where we were playing at the college we went to,” Keadle said of Institute, West Virginia, home of WVSU.

Yet after experiencing both, the coach doesn't believe high school basketball in West Virginia compares to Indiana.

“I compare it to basketball terms, and Indiana's way deeper,” he said. “(After the top classes), it really falls off (in West Virginia). It's way more deeper and there's way more tradition here.”

The Bulldogs did lose their one game on the trip, but Keadle didn't use the six-hour travel time with a couple of stops as an excuse. Central players and coaches (with two parents going separately) got settled in on Sunday about 4 p.m. for the 10 a.m. Monday game, arriving back home around 7:30 p.m. that evening.

“I don't think so,” Keadle said of the travel contributing to the loss. “They were bigger and had some size.”

Cross Lanes jumped out to a 19-6 lead after the first quarter, with the Bulldogs cutting into it to make it 30-22 at half. Cross Lanes pushed it to 50-36 after three quarters on their way to the win.

Ross Cripe led Central with 14 points, including four 3-pointers, and Payton Moore added 11. Other scoring for the Bulldogs came from Caleb Heide (seven), Nate Martin and Spencer Smith (six each) and Levi Jenkins (two). Cripe pulled down 10 rebounds and Martin had five steals to lead Central in those categories.

Keadle hopes to make the trip an annual occurrence if scheduling allows, believing it met its purpose of bringing the team closer together.

“For me, it was great,” he said. “It was a great bonding experience. When we got back, (player comments) were 'Hey coach, we loved it. We had a great time being together.'”

At Institute, W.Va.

WARRIORS 61, BULLDOGS 46

Cross Lanes Christian

Totals 23 9-12 61.

Clinton Central

Cripe 5 0-0 14, Moore 4 2-2 11, Heide 3 0-0 7, Smith 2 0-0 6, Martin 2 1-2 6, Jenkins 1 0-0 2, Shoup 0 0-0 0, Akard 0 0-0 0, Hosteter 0 0-0 0, Montgomery 0 0-0 0, Webb 0 0-0 0. Totals – 17 3-4 46.

Cross Lanes`19`11`20`11`—`61

Clinton Central`6`16`14`10`—`46

3-point goals – Cross Lanes (6), Clinton Central ( Cripe 4, Smith 2, Moore 1, Martin 1, Heide 1). Total fouls – Cross Lanes 15, Clinton Central 15.