EAST LIVERPOOL - The rims were tight. The basketball used in West Virginia was different than the basketball used in Ohio. No one was actually sure where Cameron, West Virginia was. There was no cell service. Saturday night wasn't looking good and the game hadn't even begun.
Such was the mindset of Hayden Cunningham, the leading scorer for the East Liverpool Potters under the direction of head coach Nate Conley.
There was no need to worry. By the time the varsity game was over, Cunningham had etched his name at the top of the Potters basketball list for "Most Points Scored in a Game" with 51 points. Cunningham connected on 16-of-26 shots from the field and 13-of-15 from the free throw line. So much for pregame worries.
"I was worried," said the Potter senior. "The ball that they use over in West Virginia is different. It just didn't feel good in my hands. The bus ride seemed to take forever. I was glad that we had a chartered bus. I had no idea where we were once we went past Wheeling."
Cunningham relayed his pregame concerns to Conley.
"One of my concerns was that there was a lot of space behind the basket. I told our guys that we wanted to limited our jump shots," said the Potter coach. "We wanted to shoot nothing but layups until we got comfortable. However, Hayden hit his first six or seven jumpers so that theory went out the window."
Cunningham was on fire in the first half, draining every shot that he opted for from the floor,
"After I hit my first couple of shots, I realized that I was feeling pretty good," said Cunningham.
Feeling pretty good? By the time the first half had ended, Cunningham had drained all of his shots from the floor and had just missed one foul shot on his way to 30 points at intermission.
During the early minutes of the third quarter, Cunningham suddenly couldn't find the range, misfiring on six consecutive shots.
"I found out at halftime that I had scored 30 points," Cunningham said. "I hit my first two shots in the third third quarter, but then I think I started to feel the pressure. At that point, Coach Conley took me out of the game and calmed me down."
"I think Hayden started to press a little bit," said Conley. "I just told him to calm down and think about all the shots he had made and all the work that he has put in. Hayden is a true gym rat. I have had to chase Hayden out of the gym many, many times. He is there before practice and a lot of times he will go down to the Y to shoot after practice."
Finding the range again in the fourth quarter, Cunningham moved closer and closer to the record of 47 which was set by Andrew Bobalik on Jan. 28, 2006, versus Cleveland East Tech.
Suddenly, it happened. Kade Reynolds and Cunningham were barreling down the floor on a fastbreak, when Reynolds quickly veered to the side before whipping the ball to Cunningham at the top of the key for the record-breaking shot.
"I had gotten the steal and threw it to Kade as we started down the floor," Cunningham said. "He threw it back to me at the top of the key and when I hit the three, everybody on our side went crazy."
Conley explained how the Potters came to be playing in Cameron on Saturday. Cameron is in the southeastern part of Marshall County on U.S. Route 250, about 45 minutes south of Wheeling.
"It's hard for a school our size to find games, especially since the limit was raised to 22 games last year," said Conley. "The people in Cameron treated us great. They fed us after the game. The gym is only about a year old and is a nice place to play. They even gave us a copy of their game film in case our film didn't turn out, so that we would have a copy of Hadyen's performance."
Having had time to reflect back on his record-setting performance Cunningham said "The most important thing is that we got the win. We have all started to click as a team. It looks like we're coming together at the right time of the year. For me, it was a night I'll never forget. While it's my name on the record, it's actually my teammates and coaches who made it so special. We truly care about one another."