MORGANTOWN — Dakota Shepherd is ready to play with the big boys.
At 6-foot-1, he’s not the tallest player for the Warriors. In fact, he doesn’t even crack the top five. What he lacks in height, however, he makes up for in grit.
Clay-Battelle learned that lesson in a tough way, with Shepherd imposing his physicality on the post Friday evening as the Class A No. 2 Warriors downed the Cee-Bees 74-42.
“This is a big boy position, and if you come in soft I’m going to post you up and destroy you,” Shepherd said. “People don’t understand, post players, we don’t play soft. I like playing physical and they have to learn.”
Shepherd’s impact on the floor might sneak past you in the box score. He contributed just two points for his team in the win, but he contributed in other ways.
Shepherd dominated the boards on both ends on the floor, bullying Clay-Battelle’s bigs, creating countless second-chance opportunities.
“He was a monster on the boards tonight when our other guys weren’t too good, and it seemed like every time the ball went up in the air Dakota had his hands on it,” Trinity coach John Fowkes said. “He brings the energy. He’s the energy guy. Sometimes he comes in the game and just gives us a boost, he’s done it a couple times this year. He’s very athletic, he’s long and he’s worked very hard.”
Shepherd’s energy underneath spread to his teammates, with his first stretch of action in the first-half coinciding with a 25-point second quarter from the Warriors.
As Trinity began to catch fire offensively, the momentum proved too much for the Cee-Bees to overcome.
“Trinity is a good ball club. They shot extremely well, they ran the floor and their defense caused a lot of turnovers, and it got away early,” Clay-Battelle coach Josh Kisner said. “That’s why they’re No. 2 in the state right now.”
Shepherd’s role on the team comes following a quiet junior season where he saw limited action. Transitioning into significant playing time came with a steep learning curve, but he brings a fierce mentality that helps make things a bit easier.
“Dakota is not scared of anything. He could go out there against a seven-foot guy and he’s going to put a body on him, he’s going to scrap, and he’s going to fight,” Fowkes said. “He’s not afraid to use his body to be successful. That’s just him, and that’s how he brings it every day.”
When fellow senior, and returning all-state center, Daniel Woods went down during AAU ball with an ACL injury, Shepherd knew he had to step up to help hold down the fort inside.
The work required to level up to where the Warriors needed him to be was no small task, but he proved to Fowkes and his staff that he could be called upon.
“It’s called trust. We trust what he did in the offseason, and every day in practice he’s doing the extra things,” Fowkes said. “We trust him to put him into any game — Wheeling Central, Notre Dame, it doesn’t matter.”
As Shepherd continues to excel in his role, he has learned one very important lesson about varsity basketball, and playing inside against the top-tier of Class A opponents.
“You can’t be nervous. You have to go out there, do your part, be strong and mentally ready,” he said. “You can’t let them get in your head by pushing you around. You have to push them around back.”
In the easy win over Clay-Battelle, the Warriors managed to have three players net double figures. Cam Robertson was the team’ s leading scorer, finishing the game with 17 points. Briston Bennett scored 13 (finishing perfect at the free-throw line) and Josh Hart netted 10.
Trinity (9-1) jumped out to an early 22-10 in the first quarter and never looked back. The Warriors’ defense held the Cee-Bees to just 18 total baskets. Clay-Battelle never scored more than 14 points in a quarter Friday, and managed to only get to the free-throw line just eight times.
Trinity also made 12 3-pointers in the contest with Fletcher Hartsock making a team-high three, and Hart, Jon Morley and Mark Spruill each had two.
The leading scorer for Clay-Battelle (2-8) was Levi Carrico, who finished the game with 14 points.