A Brief Preview of State Championship Saturday

The day has arrived when we will crown the three state champions for the 2017 basketball season. Before the games get underway, let’s take a quick look the two morning session matchups.

Class A: #2 Ravenswood vs. #4 Notre Dame

I have said for most of the year that Ravenswood has played the best basketball of any Class A team I had seen all year. That remained true up through the regional and the opening round of the state tournament, but yesterday, it was strongly challenged when Notre Dame completely dominated Wheeling Central in the semifinals.

If the Irish can again play with that much energy on defense and knock down shots, I love their chances, but it is never easy to do that in consecutive games at the Civic Center. My feeling is that this game will end up being played at a little slower pace with lower scoring, as almost always is the case with state championship games. Ravenswood was able to grind out a 41-36 victory over Madonna yesterday, but I think Notre Dame is able to grind out a low scoring game as well. I also saw Ravenswood put up 108 in a game earlier this year, so for that matter, I guess both teams can run and score big, too, if it comes to that.

Ravenswood did a great job slowing down Deaundra Murphy in the quarterfinals and limited Ewusiak and Jeter in the semis. They will need another great defensive effort in the finals against Jarrod West, who went off for 35 yesterday. If that does happen, then the Irish will need some other guys to knock down shots. They have several guys that are capable.

Notre Dame will also have its hands full with Ravenswood’s multiple scoring options. Riley Heatherington has had a big tournament so far, and Isaiah Morgan has knocked down several big shots.

Class AA: #1 Fairmont Senior vs. #3 Chapmanville

When these two teams met in December at the Big Ten-Cardinal Conference shootout at Robert C. Byrd, Fairmont Senior dominated from the opening tip and rolled to an 18-point win. Chapmanville seemed to really struggle with the Polar Bears’ athleticism and pressure.

That was a long time ago for this Chapmanville team, however. The Tigers have been playing great for the last month, undoubtedly their best basketball of the season. A main reason for that has been the emergence of 6’8″ freshman Obinna Killen inside, who has been blocking everything lately. He and Hunter Neil inside will provide a bigger challenge for the Polar Bears than they faced in December to go along their excellent guard trio.

Fairmont Senior is still really, really good, though, and they have played great late in the season as well. Chapmanville will need to have a great game to win, but I do believe that is much more of a possibility now than I did in December.

2017 AAA Semifinals: Huntington 73 University 65

Mikal Dawson poured in 26 points and made 9 of his 10 free throws to lead Huntington to a 73-65 victory over University. Grant Subik added 18 points and John Dawson 15.

Geoff Hamperian scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Hawks. Ethan Ridgeway also finished with 14 points and Holton Summers 13.

University played very well early and led 20-15 at the end of the first quarter, but Huntington got going in the second and led 35-31 at the half.

The Highlanders pushed the lead out to nine midway through the third quarter, but Mikal Dawson went to the locker room with an apparent illness. With him out, University went on a 9-0 run to tie the game at 42 with 2:15 remaining in the period. The Highlanders would lead by just 1 at the end of the third.

John Dawson scored five straight points to give Huntington a 54-47 lead with 4:24 to play in the game when Mikal Dawson checked back in. He responded by hitting four straight free throws to push the lead up to 11. University was never able to get the lead lower than five points after that.

University had hopes of making it at least to the state championship game if not winning it all, and they came up just short of that. This was still a fantastic season for the Hawks, who made it back to the state tournament for the first time since 1994. They will be very good again next season, returning Ridgeway, point guard Kaden Metheny, and others.

Huntington is back in the state championship game for the fourth consecutive season. Given all the talent that graduated last year, this appearance is just as impressive as any of the four. The Dawsons and Subik have been outstanding, carrying the scoring load all season. They will need to be great again on saturday if the Highlanders are going to knock off top-seeded Capital. The Cougars won both regular season matchups between the two teams, by 8 at Capital and by 24 at Huntington.

2017 AA Semifinals: Fairmont Senior 62 Mingo Central 44

Top-Ranked Fairmont Senior pulled away late for a 62-44 semifinal victory over #5 Mingo Central. Taevon Horton and Zyon Dobbs paced a balanced Polar Bear scoring effort with 13 points apiece. Jalen Bridges added 11 points and Dante’ Stills grabbed 12 rebounds.

Jeremy Dillon led all scorers with 18 points for the Miners, and Aaron Banks chipped in 11.

Mingo Central got off to another strong start like it did in the quarterfinals, and the Miners led 17-11 at the end of the first quarter. Fairmont Senior outscored them 17-4 in the second period, though, and took a 28-21 lead into the half.

The Miners battled throughout the third quarter, but they had trouble cutting much into the lead. Fairmont Senior led 40-31 at the end of the period. Midway through the fourth quarter, Mingo Central ran out of gas, and the Polar Bears push the margin over 20 points.

After Mingo Central struggled against Logan in the sectional semifinal and then got blown out by Chapmanville in the sectional final, things looked pretty bleak for the Miners. They then bounced back by going to Poca and ending the Dots’ 53-game home winning streak in the regional final, blew out Philip Barbour in the quarterfinals, and then pushed the top-seeded Polar Bears in the semifinals. Dillon and Drew Hatfield should have the Miners back in position to make a tournament run again next season.

Fairmont Senior’s quest for back-to-back state championships continues. The Polar Bears will take on Chapmanville in the title game on Saturday. Senior won the matchup between the two teams 72-54 when they met in December as part of the Big Ten-Cardinal Conference Shootout at Robert C. Byrd.

2017 AAA Semifinals: Capital 52 Morgantown 50

Jabbar Thompson came up with a steal and a basket, his only one of the game, with 21 seconds to play to give Capital its first lead of the fourth quarter, and the top-ranked Cougars escaped with a 52-50 victory over #4 Morgantown.

Leondre Rogers led the Cougars with 18 points, and Anthony Pittman added 13. Morgantown was led by its standout backcourt duo of Torin Hanson and Nicky Solomon, who scored 18 and 17, respectively.

The game was a battle throughout. Morgantown had a great gameplan and executed it nearly to perfection. The Mohigans handled Capital’s pressure and effectively slowed down the pace of the game. They were patient on offense, getting the shot they wanted on almost every possession, and they were tough on defense.

Capital caught a spark early and opened up an eight point lead, but after the Mohigans trimmed it to 15-11 at the end of the first, neither team would lead by that much again. Capital scored the last five points of the half to lead 29-24 at the break.

The teams traded leads throughout the third quarter, with Morgantown leading by a point at the end of it. In the fourth, Morgantown quickly pushed the lead out to six. The Mohigans led the entire period and were still up by four when Rogers converted a 3-point play with 27 seconds remaining to cut it to one.

On the ensuing inbound play, Capital tipped the ball out of bounds and left Morgantown with a difficult inbound from the corner. On that play, Thompson came up with the steal and basket to give the Cougars the lead. Capital then forced Solomon into a tough fadeway shot from about 12 feet away, which came up short. Rogers grabbed the rebound, was fouled, and made one free throw. Hanson’s final heave from just across half court hit the backboard and was on the rim but did not fall, allowing Capital to escape with the two-point victory.

Morgantown played so well and battled Capital to the end, but the Mohigans eventually came up just short. Though this squad was not as talented as last year’s, Solomon and Hanson played so well all season and came very close to getting Morgantown back to the title game. Those two will be sorely missed next season.

Capital returns to the state championship game for the first time since winning back-to-back titles in 2000 and 2001. The Cougars will face the winner of Huntington and University.

2017 A Semifinals: Notre Dame 73 Wheeling Central 51

Jarrod West sparked a hot start and poured in 35 points to lead #4 Notre Dame to a 73-51 win over #1 Wheeling Central. Gabe Zummo added 14 and Noah Bohanna 10 for the Irish.

Owen Gainer led Central with 17 points. Brent Price scored 13 and John Burkhalter 10 for the Maroon Knights.

The Irish came flying out the gate and scored 28 points in the first quarter, with West pouring in 17 of them. His 3-pointer as time ran out gave Notre Dame a 28-17 lead at the end of the period, and Wheeling Central would never again get the deficit back under 10 points.

Notre Dame pushed the lead up to 19 in the second quarter before Central trimmed it back to 40-26 at the half. In the second half, every time the Maroon Knights started to make a run, Notre Dame answered quickly to keep control of the game.

Wheeling Central loses some key guys, but they return an outstanding backcourt duo in Price and Gainer. I would expect the Maroon Knights to make a run at the title again next year.

Notre Dame will play for its first state championship on Saturday against Ravenswood. The Irish enter the game playing great basketball, having won 12 straight games and coming off a blowout of the tournament’s top seed.

2017 AA Semifinals: Chapmanville 57 Lincoln 40

Obinna Killen finished with a near triple-double to lead #3 Chapmanville to a 57-40 semifinal victory over #7 Lincoln. The freshman big man finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 blocks. Point guard Kyle Browning also approached a triple-double with 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists.

Chase Riley capped his excellent state tournament with 19 points to lead the Cougars.

After knocking off #2 Bluefield in the semifinals, Lincoln was again ready to play and not intimidated by the team or the big stage. Chapmanville started quickly but the Cougars climbed back in the game. The Tigers led by just a point at the half, 22-21.

Much like the quarterfinal game against Wyoming East, Chapmanville came out in the third quarter and took control of the game. The Tigers outscored Lincoln 20-7 in the period to take a 42-28 lead. They were able to cruise in the final period to the 17-point victory.

After an up-and-down season with several close losses, Lincoln was able to play its best basketball of the season late in the year and pull one of the biggest upsets in the history of the state tournament. Lincoln has steadily built a solid program, and I won’t be surprised if we see the Cougars back at the state tournament soon.

Chapmanville continues to play extremely well entering Saturday’s state championship game. The Tigers will either face Mingo Central for the fourth time this season (split 2 OT regular season games, Chapmanville won by blowout in the sectional) or get a rematch with Farimont Senior from this year’s Big Ten-Cardinal Conference Shootout (Senior won comfortably). Either way, it should be a very fun game.

2017 A Semifinals: Ravenswood 41 Madonna 36

Class A #2 Ravenswood held on late for a 41-36 semifinal victory over #6 Madonna. Isaiah Morgan led Raveswood with 14 points and 8 rebounds while Riley Heatherington added 12 and 9.

Standouts Joey Equsiak and Tavon Jeter scored 15 apiece for the Blue Dons and combined for 21 rebounds.

Ravenswood took control of the game early and rolled out to a 14-5 lead at the end of the first quarter. Madonna steadily chipped away at the deficit and briefly took a one-point lead late in the second quarter. Jayden Rhodes, who finished with 11 points, responded with five straight to give Ravenswood a 22-18 lead at the break.

The game was tight throughout the second half. The Red Devils looked to be again taking control late in the third quarter when they pushed the lead out to 8, but Madonna trimmed it back to 29-25 by the end of the period.

The Blue Dons took their first and only lead of the half at 30-29 with 5:20 to play, but Morgan responded immediately with a pair of 3-pointers to put Ravenswood back up by five. Madonna got the deficit back down to a point with 3:21 to play and again to three with 19 seconds remaining. Ravenswood was then able to handle the Blue Dons’ pressure and found Heatherington cutting to the basket for a layup that put the game away.

Madonna’s strong postseason run ends in the semifinals. The Blue Dons lose both Jeter and Ewusiak to graduation, so they will have quite a bit of production to replace next season. The pair combined for 40 points per game and were the only Blue Dons to average more than 6 ppg on the season.

Ravenswood advances to Saturday’s championship game against the winner of Wheeling Central and Notre Dame. The Red Devils are playing very well and will have a great chance to cut down the nets.

2017 AA Quarterfinals: Mingo Central 75 Philip Barbour 52

Class AA #5 Mingo Central jumped all over #4 Philip Barbour early and cruised to a 75-52 quarterfinal victory. Drew Hatfield hit five 3-pointers and finished with 23 points for the Miners. Keshean Rhodes (15 points), Canaan Fletcher (12) and Jeremy Dillon (11) joined him in double figures.

Austin Upton led Philip Barbour with 16 points and Spencer Hudkins and Noah Price added 9 apiece.

In the first half, Mingo Central could do no wrong and Philip Barbour could do no right, as the Miners led 23-6 at the end of the first quarter and 48-20 at the half. Mingo Central made 6 of its 9 3-point attempts and shot 65.5% from the field in the first half. Meanwhile, Philip Barbour shot just 36% from the field and 1-of-7 from behind the arc while committing 12 first half turnovers.

In what seemed like it could be the best quarterfinal matchup in any of the three classes, Philip Barbour had a nightmare game while the Miners played better than I have seen them play all year. Mingo Central cruised in the second half to the 23-point victory.

Philip Barbour’s stellar season ends in disappointing fashion. They will miss Upton and Hudkins next season, but the Colts will return their other three starters, all of which averaged more than 11 points per game.

After Mingo Central struggled in the sectional semifinals against Logan and was blown out in the sectional final against Chapmanville, they have really turned it on. They went to Poca and ended the Dots’ 53-game home winning streak and then played about as well as a team possibly could in the quarterfinals. The Miners should enter Friday’s semifinal matchup against top-seeded Fairmont Senior with tons of confidence, playing their best basketball of the season.

2017 AAA Quarterfinals: Huntington 65 Musselman 48

Mikal Dawson poured in 29 points to lead AAA #3 Huntington to a 65-48 quarterfinal win over #6 Musselman. John Dawson added 15 and Grant Subik 14 for the Highlanders.

Cameron Stephens led the Applemen with 18 points, and Michael Bratton added 11.

Huntington took an early 11-3 lead, but Musselman settled in and controled the game for most of the rest of the half. The Highlanders led 22-19 at the break.

The Highlanders quickly pushed the lead out to 13 early in the second half, and Musselman never could dig itself out of that hole. The Applement got the deficit down to 8 and had momentum with about 3:30 to play, but Huntington answerd with 12 straight points to put the game away.

Musselman started the season with hopes of making a deep run, but their season ends in the quarterfinals for the third straight season. The three consecutive tournament appearances are quite an accomplish for the program, though, which had a handful of tourney trips scattered across several years before that. Big man Jake Stephens will be the team’s returning centerpiece next season.

Huntington advances to the semifinals for the fourth consecutive season. The Highlanders will have a showdown with #2 University in Friday evening’s nightcap.

2017 AA Quarterfinals: Fairmont Senior 59 Herbert Hoover 39

Top-seeded Fairmont Senior pulled away late for a 59-39 victory over #8 Herbert Hoover. Zyon Dobbs led a balanced Polar Bear scoring attack with 14 points. Taevon Horton added 13 and Dante’ Stills 11.

Big man Chase King paced the Huskies with 16 points and 14 rebounds and was the only Hoover player in double figures in either category.

Early in the game, it looked as if Fairmont Senior was going to run away with the game. The Polar Bears forced several turnovers and raced out to a 14-3 lead. In the second quarter, however, Hoover settled in and started to play much better and outscored Senior in the period to trim the halftime deficit to 7.

Hoover was able to keep the deficit around that for most of the second half. At one point, the Huskies briefly trimmed the lead to three points but could get no closer. Midway through the final period, Fairmont Senior blew the game open and closed on a 16-2 run to set the final score.

Herbert Hoover had a great showing in its first state tournament appearance in school history. Fans from the community packed out the cheering section, and the Huskies battled the top seed to the end.

Fairmont Senior struggled a little more than they would have preferred in this game, but they were able to secure the win and move on. They will likely need to play better in the semifinals to win, but they played well enough to beat the team they needed to beat tonight. I expect the Polar Bears to play very well tomorrow when they take on the winner of Philip Barbour and Mingo Central in the semis.