HAMBLETON — When Trinity Christian needed a go-to player March 7, junior guard Caleb Jenkins stepped up.
Jenkins poured 21 points on Tucker County during the WVSSAC Class A Region 2 co-regional final to help lift the Warriors over the Mountain Lions in a 69-48 win.
Jenkins, who recently returned from an injury that kept him sidelined for over a month, worked his way back into the rotation in a big way.
He consistently drained tough shots for the Warriors, sparking his squad as it battled back from a four-point deficit at the halftime break.
“Coach has been smart with me through the injury, keeping me fresh and taking things patiently,” Jenkins said. “I just tried to do what he wanted me to do tonight, hitting the shots when they need hit.”
“My teammates were great with looking and making the right pass; they just hit me when I was open.”
Jenkins scored 15 of his 21 in the final 16 minutes, in what Trinity head coach John Fowkes said was “one of the best second halves I’ve ever been a part of as a coach.”
“He carried us in that second half, he really did. When we needed a bucket, Jenkins took the ball and he made it,” Fowkes said. “At one point he stepped back and took a 25-footer; nothing but net. I could tell he was in the zone. When he’s there, he’s a special kid.”
It was a strong turnaround following a sluggish first half, after which Fowkes wasn’t so sure his team would live to see another game.
“In that first half, I didn’t know whether we wanted to be here or not. It wasn’t my team; we only had seven points in the first quarter. That hasn’t happened all year,” Fowkes said. “I think maybe it was the nerves, and the anxiety.”
Tucker County out-hustled and out-shot the Warriors at the beginning, dominating the offensive boards and creating too many shot opportunities for Trinity to consistently stop.
“I kind of gave it to them at halftime, talking about passion,” Fowkes said. “I yelled a bit at halftime; typically, when I yell, these kids respond. They take being chewed on really well, and most kids don’t.”
Fowkes adjusted his starting lineup at the break, and switched his team back to a man-to-man defense after the Warriors’ zone defense proved to be little match for the Mountain Lions.
“All year we’ve been a great man-to-man team, and last time against these guys we couldn’t guard them man-to-man. This time, our plan was to zone them, but we couldn’t rebound out of the zone,” Fowkes said. “I said, ‘If you guys want this, you’re going to have to stand up and play Trinity man-to-man defense.’ ”
Trinity came out with a vengeance in the third quarter, with Jenkins hitting a trio of shots from behind the 3-point arc to lead the charge. The Warriors’ man defense discombobulated Tucker County, and the offense found its rhythm as they stuck a 24-point dagger in the Mountain Lions’ state tournament hopes.
The Warriors kept their foot on the throttle, and outscored their hosts, 19-10, in the final period.
The win advances Trinity to the Class A state tournament at the Charleston Civic Center, a milestone Fowkes describes as “special.”
“We love each other, and it showed. When I got on them at halftime, they looked like they were ready to kill someone,” Fowkes said. “It’s special for me, it’s special for the me, and most importantly, it’s special for the school.”
The state tournament appearance ends a seven-year drought for the Warriors, who last made the trip in 2011. Trinity, seeded fifth, will open play at 9 p.m. March 15, against sectional rival and fourth seed Notre Dame.
For Fowkes and the Warriors, ambitions are high headed into the tourney.
“We’re going to mess around and go down there and win the whole thing,” he said.
— Single-session tickets for the state boys’ basketball tournaments are available via ticketmas ter.com for $9 (the price is subject to fees).
Single-session tickets also are available at the Charleston Civic Center box office.
General seating is $8, reserved seating $9.
You may still obtain book tickets of reserved seating for all eight sessions of the tournament for $64.
They are available at the Civic Center box office or at 304-345-7469 (SHOW).