Sports

HHS ‘BasketCats’ Dominate M6 Foes

Dwight Canady drives past Franklin’s Grant Adams (24) and star Trey Penland (32) for two of his 22 points Saturday.

Hendersonville

Unbeaten Hendersonville Bearcats are obliterating the opposition in basketball.

The undefeated Hendersonville Bearcats are cruising through the Mountain Six Conference, ahead of a basketball 2A playoff run.

HHS (6-0) can clinch a conference title by beating second-place Pisgah Friday, at Hendersonville Middle School. HHS is led by its trio of star guards — sophomore Keenan Wilkins (22.7 ppg., 4.3 steals), junior Dwight Canady (18.8 ppg., 6.3 RPG.), and senior Carson Redden (11.5 ppg., 4.0 steals, 5.5 rebs.).

All are 5-10 or shorter. But they are fast, smart and tenacious. Wilkins said, “We make things happen” — such as with fast-break points, driving to the basket, or with patient passing to find the open man to sink outside shots. Wilkins credits team “chemistry” and on-court communication and cohesion in executing plays.

The “Guard-ians of the Hoops Galaxy” or more simply “BasketCats” — as the Tribune calls them — were untouchable in a recent three-game stretch. They annihilated Brevard by 39 points (at 66-27), Smoky Mountain by 47 (83-36) on Jan. 25, then East Henderson by 41 (84-43) on Jan. 27 thanks to a 33-12 edge in the second period.

Such Bearcat hoops domination was prevalent when current head coach Marvin Featherstone was the point guard on the school’s 1986-87 state champions. The head coach then was Bobby Wilkins, now the school’s principal.

Keenan Wilkins (no relation to Bobby) poured in 32 points (16 in each half) last Saturday against Franklin, for the most points by a Bearcat in 2021. He twice scored 24 points this month, including against Smoky when sinking four of eight three-pointers.

Canady has surpassed 1,000 varsity points. His best this year was 26 versus East. He scored 18 of his 22 points Saturday in a decisive first half, as HHS opened up a 20-point lead by intermission. He made three of five three-pointers against Brevard. Carson Redden scored 18 in the opener. His brother Chase is also a senior on varsity.

The Bearcats will likely go as far as their bigger men can carry them against taller teams, in support of the guard trio. Alex Lemmens averages 6.8 rebounds and 5.7 points. The HHS football star has grown to 6-foot-3 and 1/2 and weighs 240 pounds. He is shorter than many in the post, but stockier —and can overpower foes.

Fellow senior Joel Christner, an HHS quarterback, and junior Braden Strickland total eight rebounds per contest off of the bench. They are about 6-2. “Our big guys are getting after it,” and usually rebounding well, Coach Featherstone said.

Keenan Wilkins triggers a three-pointer against Franklin Saturday. His 32 points that day is the high score by a Bearcat in 2021. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Keenan Wilkins triggers a three-pointer against Franklin Saturday. His 32 points that day is the high score by a Bearcat in 2021.

Out-clawing the Panthers

The Bearcats played three games in each of the past two weeks. Their schedule was condensed after a two-week COVID quarantine delayed their season’s start, Featherstone noted.

The Cats opened by handily beating their two main M6 competitors by 19 points each on the road — 76-57 at Franklin Jan. 18, then 70-51 at Pisgah. Featherstone calls the M6 race a “three-dog show.” The three-game demolition derby followed.

Then last Saturday, the Cats opened round two of two in their M6 tour with a 76-65 win. This was over Franklin Panthers (2-3), in what might be called the Cat-scratch Classic. HHS led 42-22 at halftime. “I love that first half!,” Coach Featherstone said. “We did well in transition” — defenders rebounding, then making fast-break buckets. Foul shooting fizzled, however.

The Cats widened the lead from seven to 22 points in a second-period blitz and kept their lead in double digits.

Much taller Franklin closed the gap with offensive rebounding by post-star Miles McClure, after errant Panther shots. Then both sides made their shots in a high-scoring fourth period, in which FHS outdid HHS 26-22.

Franklin made a run after HHS went from man-to-man to a half-court zone defense, to rest players. Featherstone did so to lessen likely Bearcat fatigue, from playing six games in two weeks.

Hendersonville High School’s campus is undergoing major renovation and expansion. A new gym is going up. Meanwhile, HHS home basketball games are split between nearby East Henderson and Hendersonville Middle School. The game against Franklin Saturday was on the HMS court, where HHS Bearcats played in middle school.

The Bearcats play soccer on their Dietz Field and will play football there since the field is not part of ongoing renovations, Athletic Director Laura Bruegger noted. Football is slated to start Feb. 26, across the state.

Hendersonville basketball versus Pisgah on Friday, Feb. 5 will be at HMS. Pisgah is second in the M6 at 5-1 and still contending for the M6 crown. The Bears won by 15 at Franklin but lost by 19 to HHS.

Hendersonville will have played at Smoky Mountain, two days earlier. The regular season ends with HHS at Brevard on Feb. 10, then at East on Saturday, Feb. 13.

East Henderson seeks its first M6 victory. Casey Barnes’ squad beat Avery twice to open the season and is 2-4 overall. The Eagles close their season with three home games — on Monday, Feb. 8 versus Franklin, against Smoky Mountain on Feb. 10, then by hosting HHS on Saturday, Feb. 13.

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