2016-17 Season Preview: Class AAA

Now that football state champions have been crowned, fall sports are officially over and basketball season is upon us. It is time to take a look at the statewide hoops landscape, starting with Class AAA.

I’m going to do the previews a little different this year. Instead of starting with favorites to win it all and working from there, I am going to go region by region.

First, a few overall notes about AAA:

-With the new reclassification kicking in this season, AAA is much, much smaller that it has been in the past with just 29 schools. This hurts the overall strength of AAA a little. Also, the regions are much smaller, with three sections containing just three teams.

-I think AAA will be down a little bit from previous seasons. The classification has lost quite a few really good players in recent years, many of which are playing basketball in college. Some of these teams will be young with good players coming up. We’ll see how quickly those guys can make a difference.

-Just a reminder that I do not always know who has transferred schools, which players might have decided not to play this season, who may be injured, and other factors that might affect the overall landscape. I just do my best.

Region 1

Section 1: Brooke, John Marshall, Wheeling Park

Section 2: Buckhannon-Upshur, Morgantown, Preston, University

University returns the most of any team in this region, led by Geoff Hamperian and Ethan Ridgeway. The Hawks look to be in great position to make it back to state tournament for the first time since 1994 and potentially make some noise in Charleston.

Beyond University, it’s hard to tell exactly how this region will take shape. Defending champion Morgantown lost a ton from last year’s team. They return one starter in Nicky Solomon and 6th man Torin Hanson. I don’t know a whole lot about their younger guys, but I suspect they will be back in the mix.

Wheeling Park was also hit pretty hard with graduation. Perhaps the door will be a little more open than usual for the other four teams to make it to the state tournament.

Region 2

Section 1: Hedgesville, Martinsburg, Musselman, Spring Mills

Section 2: Hampshire, Jefferson, Washington

Musselman is coming off consecutive trips to the state tournament and returns a lot from last year’s squad, including PG Cameron Stephens and big man Jake Stephens. The Appleman should have a chance this year to advance to the semifinals for the first time in AAA.

Martinsburg lost a little more to graduation than Musselman did, but I still expect the Bulldogs to be in the mix, led by outstanding PG Jessiya Villa. Devonte Redman is another strong returner that I look to have an expanded scoring role this season.

Beyond those two teams, I don’t know as much about the other schools in the region. The Eastern Panhandle is always loaded with talent, so I won’t be surprised if there is another team or two that emerges as a contender to win this region and/or advance to the state tournament.

Region 3

Section 1: Capital, George Washington, South Charleston, St. Albans

Section 2: Greenbrier East, Princeton, Riverside, Woodrow Wilson

To me, Woodrow Wilson is the preseason favorite to win the state title. They lost only one starter from last year’s semifinalist in Nequan Carrington, but Breland Walton was really good off the bench for Beckley last year, and I expect him to slide seamlessly into that spot. Isaiah Francis was great for Woodrow last year, and I think Courtney Walton is primed to have a huge season. They also had some good young kids last year that should be ready to contribute more this year, and I was told by several different people that they had a great group in middle school last year, though I’m not sure if any will be ready to contribute as freshmen. The biggest drawback for Woodrow is that Ty Walton is out with a knee injury, probably for the whole year. If they can somehow get him back on the court late in the season, he could give them a huge postseason lift.

If Woodrow isn’t the favorite, then Capital probably is. Leondre Rogers is one of the best players in the state. Anthony Pittman, still just a junior, is freakishly athletic and just kept getting better and better last season. I think he has the chance to be one of this season’s breakout stars. I also look for sophomore Kerry Martin to shine in an expanded role this season.

George Washington will also be good, led by standout junior PG Justin Phillips. The Patriots are always well-coached, and I think they will be a really tough out come postseason time.

South Charleston is beginning life after Brandon Knapper. Tamon Scruggs is a top returner for the Black Eagles, and who I expect to be a pretty good team by season’s end.

St. Albans should be pretty good, but the path is now harder for the Red Dragons in the section with the Charleston schools.

Greenbrier East has some good kids back, and I think they will have the best chance at pushing Woodrow for the sectional championship.


Region 4

Section 1: Parkersburg, Parkersburg South, Ripley

Section 2: Cabell Midland, Huntington, Hurricane, Spring Valley

There will be lots of new faces on the floor in this region. Huntington lost four of its five starters to graduation, but the one returner (Mikal Dawson) is really good. The Highlanders will also get a big lift from John Dawson transferring back from St. Joseph. It remains to be seen whether the Highlanders will be good enough to compete for a state championship, but they will be good.

Parkersburg South also lost most of its contributors from a year ago, but I’ve been told by many that they have a great young group coming. They might be a year or two away from competing for a title, but I know they will still fly up and down the court this year and have a bunch of guys that can shoot.

Parkersburg had a bunch of solid players last year, and many of them return. I’m looking forward to seeing how much Brenton Strange has developed heading into his sophomore season. He has a shot to be really good.

Hurricane will be in the mix again this season. Nick Muto and Braxton Dobert are two leading returners that will look to lead Hurricane to its fifth consecutive state tournament appearance.

Ripley would have been one of the overwhelming favorites to advance to the state tournament from this region before Chase Johnson opted to transfer to Huntington Prep. I think they will still be pretty good and Jamison Hunt will be a really good player for them, but the Vikings just won’t be the same without Johnson.

2016 AAA Semis: Huntington 66 Parkersburg South 52

Huntington opened up a 16-point lead in the second quarter, and Parkersburg South could never get all the way back in the game after that. The Highlanders advanced to their third straight AAA state championship game with a 66-52 victory.

JR Howard finished with 21 points and Tavian Dunn-Martin 19 to lead Huntington. Dajon Congleton scored 10 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, and Mikal Dawson 9 points and 10 rebounds. Cody Boggs led South with 18 points, and Garrett GIlkeson added 11.

South jumped out to a quick 8-1 lead three minutes into the game, but Huntington bounced back quickly. The Highlanders scored 16 consecutive points over the next three minutes, sparked by three Dunn-Martin 3-pointers. The run continued into the second quarter as the lead ballooned to 26-10 with five minutes to play in the half. Parkersburg South responded to cut the deficit to 30-22 at the break.

The Patriots cut the lead to six with the first basket of the second half, but that is as close as they would get. Huntington pushed the lead back out to 15 at the end of the third quarter, and South would never get it back into single digits in the fourth quarter.

South fought to stay in this one, but ultimately, they could not knock down enough shots. Possibly due to having tired legs from its grueling double overtime win over Capital in the quarterfinals with no day off, the Patriots shot just 33% from the field and 20% from 3-point range for the game. They made some runs in the second half, but Huntington answered every one of them.

Parkersburg South will look very different next season after graduating all five starters. They will be down a little next year, but they have two promising young guys that got a good bit of time this year in Shane Snider and Seth Fallon, and they have another really good group coming that will be freshmen next year. Look for South to be right back in the state championship mix in a couple years.

Huntington’s march toward a third consecutive state championship continues. To get that third title, the Highlanders will have to knock off undefeated Morgantown.

Final Scoring:

Huntington 66

JR Howard 21, Tavian Dunn-Martin 19, Dajon Congleton 19, Mikal Dawson 9, Jalen Pennington 6, Jadon Hayes 1

Parkersburg South 52

Cody Boggs 18, Garrett Gilkeson 11, Cole Day 7, Jordan Hockman 7, Seth Fallon 3, Dylan Ward 2, Shane Snider 2, Josh Wolfe 2

2016 A Semis: St. Joseph 70 Magnolia 62

St. Joseph overcame another fourth quarter deficit to knock off Magnolia 70-62 in the semifinals. Keith Clemons scored 24 points to lead the Irish, while John Morrison added 17 points off the bench. Deaundra Murphy and John Dawson added 14 and 13, respectively.

Preston Boswell poured in 41 points for the Blue Eagles. Boswell scored Magnolia’s first 19 points, had 24 at the half, and looked for a while like he had a chance to break the state tournament scoring record of 50 points held by Herbie Brooks (Mullens, 1983).

St. Joseph jumped out to a quick lead on two 3-pointers by Dawson and held an 18-11 lead at the end of the first quarter. Magnolia started to get rolling in the second quarter, and a 3-pointer by Kyle Ritz just ahead of the halftime buzzer tied the score at 32.

The game would remain close in the third quarter. Magnolia took a 5-point lead about three minutes into the period, but St. Joe came back to take a lead with 2:44 to play in the quarter. A Boswell layup gave Magnolia a 47-46 lead heading into the final period.

The teams would trade baskets and small runs throughout the fourth quarter. A 3-pointer by Derrick Blain put Magnolia up by six with 6:44 to play, but St. Joe would steadily chip away at the lead. Back-to back baskets by Murphy tied the score at 61, but then Boswell hit one of two free throws to put the Blue Eagles back up with 2:15 to play. Magnolia would not score again, though, and the Irish ran off nine straight points (two Dawson FTs, a Murphy basket, a Morrison basket, a Murphy free throw, and a Dawson basket) to end the game.

Magnolia comes up one game short of the championship in its title defense. The Blue Eagles will be hit hard this year with graduation. Not only do they lose standout Preston Boswell, they also lose all five starters and almost all of their scoring. Magnolia will be down next year, but I’m sure they will not be down for long.

St. Joseph advances to the state championship game to take on Wheeling Central. The Irish have shown that they are capable of beating anyone in the tournament. They will have one more very tough test to win the title.

Final Scoring:

St. Joseph 70

Keith Clemons 24, John Morrison 17, Deaundra Murphy 14, John Dawson 13, Travis McNeil 2

Magnolia 62

Preston Boswell 41, Kyle Ritz 9, Derrick Blain 6, Mitch Winters 3, Tyler Anderson 3

2016 AAA Semis: Morgantown 54 Woodrow Wilson 50

Morgantown withstood Woodrow Wilson’s best shot and was able to grind out a 54-50 win over Woodrow Wilson to advance to the state championship game. Steven Solomon led all scorers with 18 points for the Mohighans. Nicky Solomon added 14 and Kenzie Melko 13.

Ty Walton led Woodrow with 13 points. Breland Walton added 11 and Nequan Carrington 10.

The Mohigans started off well and held a 21-14 lead at the end of the first quarter. Woodrow would get rolling second, though. Ty and Courtney Walton hit 3-pointers early in the period to cut the lead to one, and the Flying Eagles went on to score the first 13 points of the quarter to take the lead. Woodrow pushed the lead out to eight and seemed poised to push the lead into double figures, but Morgantown finished the half strong and went into the locker room down just four points.

The second half was a slugfest. Woodrow held the lead for the entire third period until a late Nicky Solomon basket tied the score at 39 at the end of the quarter. Carrington scored on the first possession of the fourth quarter to give Woodrow the lead, but after that, the Flying Eagles would not lead again.

Morgantown scored the next five points to take a three-point lead, and two Steven Solomon free throws with 2:23 to play pushed the lead up to five. Breland Walton answered with a basket and two free throws to cut the margin back to 49-48 with 1:34 to play. Morgantown would finish strong on defense, though, and take care of the ball. Two free throws by Nicky Solomon extended the Mohigan lead back to three at 53-50 with 35 seconds remaining, and after one final stop, Kenzie Melko made one of two free throws with 3 seconds to play to ice the game and set the final score.

Woodrow certainly had its chances to win this one but could not break through in the end. They will miss Carrington and key sub Malyk Fowlkes, but everyone else returns for the Flying Eagles. It is very early, but I would think Beckley will enter next season as the favorite to win the 2017 AAA state championship.

Morgantown’s incredible undefeated season continues. After winning a bunch of games comfortably this year, the Mohigans proved in this one that they can take a major punch, handle the adversity, and still come away with the win. They advance to the state championship game to take on the winner of Huntington and Parkersburg South.

Final Scoring:

Morgantown 54

Steven Solomon 18, Nicky Solomon 14, Kenzie Melko 13, Elvin McNally 4, Antonio Morgano 3, Torin Hanson 2

Woodrow Wilson 50

Ty Walton 13, Breland Walton 11, Nequan Carrington 10, Courtney Walton 9, Isaiah Francis 5, Tarek Payne 2

2016 AA Semis: Poca 85 Wyoming East 55

Poca blew the game open by outscoring Wyoming East 33-7 in the second quarter and cruised to an 85-55 semifinal win. Luke Frampton led all scorers with 24 for Poca, and Elijah Cuffee added 20 and Kaden Meeks 17. RJ Foldon capped a great state tournament with 14 points and was the only scorer in double figures for East.

While many teams have tried (and failed) to beat Poca by slowing things down and holding the ball, Wyoming East decided to stay true to its style of play and run with Poca. The Warriors started a little slow but held their own in the first quarter, trailing the Dots 13-7 at the end of the period.

Once the flood gates opened in the second quarter, though, East could not keep up. Poca scored the first nine points of the quarter before Foldon hit a 3-pointer two minutes into the period. Poca then scored the next 14 points to go up 34-10 before another Foldon jumper midway through the period. From there, the Dots finished the half on a 12-2 run, with East’s only points coming on two Foldon free throws. Poca cruised in the second half, never allowing the lead to get back under 20 points.

Wyoming East had a really nice run to make it back to the semifinals. The Warriors will be hit pretty hard with graduation, but they also return a few guys with experience. I’ve also been told that they have a good group in middle school. They will probably be down a little next year from what they were this year, but they are never down for very long at Wyoming East.

Poca advances back to the state championship game. The Dots will have a title game rematch with Fairmont Senior. Just like last season, they will have their hands full with the Polar Bears.

Final Scoring:

Poca 85

Luke Frampton 24, Elijah Cuffee 20, Kaden Meeks 17, JP Phillips 7, Austin Henrich 6, Carson Cottrill 3, Chase Dotson 2, Mitch Hoffman 2, Trace Jarrett 2, Alex Hamrick 2

Wyoming East 55

RJ Foldon 14, Cody Lester 8, David Carte 8, Johnathan Sims 5, Logan Blankenship 4, Logan Mullins 4, Corey McKinney 2, Alec Lusk 2, Zach Cook 2, Logan Davidson 2, Logan Bland 2, Evan Preece 2

2016 A Semis: Wheeling Central 69 Tug Valley 47

Wheeling Central built a 15-point lead in the second quarter, and Tug Valley was never able to fully recover. The Maroon Knights knocked off Tug 69-47 to advance to the Class A state championship game.

Chase Harler led all scorers with 27 points for Central. John Burkhalter added 15 and Gabe Rohmann 10. Jeremy Dillon led Tug with 15 and Tyler May scored 13.

The first quarter was back and forth early. Tug held a 10-9 lead before Central finished the quarter on a 9-2 run. Central pushed the lead out to 15 late in the period and led 32-20 at the break.

Central hit some shots early in the second half, but then the Panthers went on a 10-0 run to trim the deficit back to six just three minutes into the quarter. Burkhalter was able to stop the run with 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to push the margin back into double figures. Harler hit a pair of free throws with just more than a minute to play in the period to extend the lead to 11 again, and Tug Valley would never again get the lead into single digits. The Maroon Knights led comfortably in the fourth quarter and pushed the margin above 20 late in the game.

This had to be a disappoint way for Tug Valley’s season to end, but the Panthers will enter next season as one of the top contenders for the Class A title. They will miss a couple starters, but they return a strong nucleus that includes both Dillon and May.

Wheeling Central advances to the championship game for the third consecutive season. They will face the winner of Magnolia and St. Joseph. (Magnolia would be a rematch of last year’s title game that the Maroon Knights lost.)

Final Scoring:

Wheeling Central 69

Chase Harler 27, John Burkhalter 15, Gabe Rohmann 10, Owen Gainer 7, Brent Price 5, Bray Price 5

Tug Valley 47

Jeremy Dillon 15, Tyler May 13, Calvin Blankenship 7, Corbin Oliver 4, Chandler Runyon 3, Jonathan Blankenship 2, Colby Savage 2, Brady Spaulding 1

2016 AA Semis: Fairmont Senior 48 Bridgeport 47

Fairmont Senior knocked off Bridgeport for the second season in a row to advance to the AA state championship game. This time, the score was much closer, with the Polar Bears winning 48-47.

Senior point guard Darhius Nunn was excellent yet again for Senior, finishing with 15 points, 10 rebounds, 6 steals, and 4 assists. Brennan Moorehead added 10 points for the Polar Bears. Dante Bonamico scored 14 to lead Bridgeport. Logan Smith added 12 and Nick Greely 11.

The game was tight throughout the entire first half. Senior led by a point after one quarter, and the game was tied at 28 at the break. The Polar Bears started to get rolling in the third quarter, and pushed the lead to as high as 9 before finishing the quarter with a 44-36 lead.

That margin would not last for long in the final period, however. Bridgeport scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter to tie the game, capped by a Smith 3-pointer with 5:17 to play. Nunn answered with a 3-pointer to regain the lead, then Bonamico tied it back up with a free throw and a basket. Neither team would score again until the final minute.

With about 30 seconds to play, Fairmont Senior was inbounding the ball at midcourt. The inbound pass was tipped and ended in a held ball, but Bridgeport was whistled for a technical foul for a push after the whistle. Nunn made one of the two technical free throws to give Senior the lead.

Bridgeport stole the ensuing inbound pass and took a timeout. They a ran a set but could not get the look they wanted, so they took another timeout. Senior tipped a pass out of bounds on the next set, and the Indians had one more play with 4.7 seconds left. They got the ball in to Greely at the top of the key, but Nunn was able to ambush him from the back side and steal the ball to secure the win.

This was a tough loss for Bridgeport, who seemed as if they would avenge last year’s semifinal loss. Almost all of their key pieces this year are seniors, so they will probably be down next year from what they have been the last few seasons. I do know that Bridgeport basketball is never down for very long, though, especially in AA.

Fairmont Senior advances to their third AA championship game in four seasons, looking to break through and win their first AA championship. They potentially have a rematch of last year’s title game against Poca, which they nearly won.

Final Scoring:

Fairmont Senior 48

Darhius Nunn 15, Brennan Moorehead 10, Zyon Dobbs 9, Joseph Leon 6, Justin Lee 4, Dante Stills 4

Bridgeport 47

Dante Bonamico 14, Logan Smith 12, Nick Greely 11, Donald Kummer 8, Hunter Haddix 2

2016 A Quarters: St. Joseph 54 Notre Dame 50

St. Joseph erased a late seven-point deficit to knock off Notre Dame by a final of 54-50 to advance to the semifinals. John Dawson let St. Joe with 18, with Keith Clemons adding 17 and Deaundra Murphy 14 points and 19 rebounds. Jarrod West led all scorers with 19 points and was the only Notre Dame player in double figures.

Notre Dame started very slow and trailed 14-5 at the end of the first. They got going in the second, but St. Joe held a 26-22 lead at the break. Notre Dame took the lead in the middle of the third quarter, and the two teams entered the fourth tied at 35.

Notre Dame took the first lead of the final period and pushed it up to seven points two different times, the last coming at 48-41 with 3:15 to play. St. Joe would go on a 13-2 run from that point forward to end the game, forcing some turnovers and missed shots.

A basket by Murphy gave St. Joe a 51-50 lead w/ 1:22 to play, and then Clemons hit a pair of free throws to push the lead to three. Dawson hit one of two from the line to secure the victory with four seconds to play.

This was a really tough loss in the quarterfinals for Notre Dame for the second consecutive season. Last year, they lost a late lead against eventual champion Magnolia. I look for them to be tough again next year, though, for West’s senior season.

St. Joe advances to the semifinals where they will take on Magnolia. That will be a tough contest, but I definitely think the Irish have a shot to win.

Final Scoring:

St. Joseph 54

John Dawson 18, Keith Clemons 17, Deaundra Murphy 14, Travis McNeil 3, Jacob Strieter 2

Notre Dame 50

Jarrod West 19, Jordan Miller, Noah Bohanna 6, Jack Ebert 5, Todd Griffith 5, Jaret Mulloly 3, Dakota Bull 2, Joel Maurer 2

2016 AAA Quarters: Parkersburg South 87 Capital 86 2OT

Parkersburg South survived and came away with an 87-86 win over Capital in a double overtime thriller. Garrett Gilkeson finished with 21 to lead South, and Cole Day added 20 points and 10 rebounds. Crunchy Bays scored 26 points and grabbed 18 rebounds for the Cougars, and Leondre Rogers added 24 points.

The game was tight throughout the first half. In fact, the game was tied at 16 at the end of the first quarter and tied at 33 at the half.

Parkersburg South started to get rolling in the third quarter, and a Gilkeson 3-pointer pushed the lead all the way out to 15 points with 1:42 to play in the quarter. Capital would make a small recovery, though, and cut the lead to 58-49 at the end of the period.

The fourth quarter belonged to Capital. The Cougars stormed back to take a lead, and two Bays free throws gave them a 72-66 lead with just 1:12 to play. South was able to get a few steals, though, and a pair of free throws by Cody Boggs tied the game back up with 37 seconds to play. South was able to get the ball back, and Gilkeson found Ward on the wing for a 3-point attempt as time expired, but it did not fall.

In the first overtime period, South seemed to be in some trouble when Gilkeson fouled out with a little more than a minute remaining on the clock. Deshawn Hatfield hit a layup to give Capital a one-point lead with 12 seconds to play, but then Day was fouled on the other end to give South a chance to win it. He made the first to tie it but then missed the second. Hatfield got off a final shot from about 25-feet at the buzzer, but it was off.

In the second overtime, Day gave South an 87-85 lead with a crazy shot falling away from the basket with 1:29 to play. South would hold on to that margin until a chaotic sequence ended with Bays at the free throw line for a chance to tie. He would only make one, and Capital fouled. South missed both free throws, but Bays’ final shot from well beyond half court was off.

This was a tough way for Capital to end an excellent season. They will lose several good seniors to graduation, but I expect for the Cougars to be tough again next season with a core of Rogers, Anthony Pittman, and Kerry Martin.

South finds a way to advance back to the semifinals where the Patriots will have a championship game rematch with Huntington. The title game was a tight one last year, so we will see if South can avenge the loss.

Final Scoring:

Parkersburg South 87

Garrett Gilkeson 21, Cole Day 20, Cody Boggs 15, Dylan Ward 14, Shande Snider 11, Jordan Hockman 6

Capital 86

Crunchy Bays 26, Leondre Rogers 24, Deshawn Hatfield 13, Anthony Pittman 9, Neil Williams 6, Kerry Martin 5, Kalik Ross 3

2016 A Quarters: Magnolia 72 Fayetteville 43

Top-seeded Magnolia jumped out to a 23-4 lead at the end of the first quarter and rolled from there to a 72-43 quarterfinal win over Fayetteville. Preston Boswell poured in 28 points for the Blue Eagles to lead all scorers, and Mitch Winters added 9 points and 11 rebounds. Ricky Meadows scored 10 to lead Fayetteville.

Magnolia jumped all over Fayetteville to start the game, and the Pirates never could recover from it. Once Fayetteville adapted to the talent level and athleticism, though, they seemed to settle into the game and were competitive.

Fayetteville’s key pieces are almost all juniors, including their three leading scorers. This season and state tournament trip was great experience for the Pirates, and they have a chance to make it back next year and be able to make some noise.

This was about the best case scenario for Magnolia. The Blue Eagles jumped out quickly and were able to rest their starters for big chunks of the game. They advance to the semifinals in an attempt to defend their title and will face the winner of Notre Dame and St. Joseph.

Final Scoring:

Magnolia 72

Preston Boswell 28, Tyler Williamson 9, Mitch Winters 9, Derrick Blain 6, Kyle Ritz 6, Dylan Jackson 5, Peau Halahingano 3, Tyler Anderson 3, Zach Haught 2, Alex Anderson 1

Fayetteville 43

Ricky Meadows 10, Will Fenton 9, Dalton Dempsey 8, Darrick McDowell 6, Alex Hewitt 5, Marcus Lively 3, Dylan Doyle 2