New Look for Big Ten/Cardinal Challenge

This weekend, the fourth edition of the Big Ten/Cardinal Conference Challenge will tip off. I have made no secret that this is one of my favorite events of each season. Not only do I get to watch a full day of basketball with good matchups between the AA teams of North Central WV and the ones in the Kanawha Valley and Southern WV, but I also have the opportunity to watch many of the Big Ten teams that I don’t get to see very often, all in one place.

The event this year will have a distinctly different look and feel to it. After three years of holding it in Charleston (one at the Civic Center and two at WVSU), the event is moving to Big Ten territory to Robert C. Byrd High School. The event has also expanded to 10 games (and a second day), as both conferences added AA schools after the most recent reclassification. Tolsia is out of the Cardinal after moving back down to “A,” and Winfield, Logan, and Nitro moved in after dropping to AA. Lewis County, which was already in the Big Ten, moved down to AA and will participate in the event this year. Instead of a one-day, nine game, 14ish hour shootout, the ten games are spread among two days. The game between the 10th, 9th, and 8th seeded teams (as determined before the season by the coaches) will be played on Friday night, with the other seven taking place on Saturday.

Beyond just the new schools, many of the familiar teams in the event have quite a new look this year, some due to graduation, others to transfers or impact freshmen. Therefore, this year’s challenge will both have some guaranteed good teams and matchups as well as a few unknowns.

Probably the least amount of change can be found in the matchup of the top seeds between Fairmont Senior and Chapmanville. The Polar Bears were the top seed for the Big Ten a year ago and were the eventual state champions (although I believe Bridgeport won the Big Ten Championship in the regular season). Senior lost standout Darhius Nunn to graduation but return several dynamic players, including Zyon Dobbs and Justin Lee. Chapmanville also returns a ton from its state tournament team, including the outstanding guard trio of Drew Williamson, Kyle Browning, and Dylan Smith. They also have a potential impact freshman in 6’8” Obinna Killen, who adds to the Tigers’ returning depth inside. This has the chance to be a great matchup between two very good AA squads.

The game between the 2-seeds has a new look as well. This is the first time that Poca has not represented the Cardinal as the top seed. The Dots definitely look a little different without Elijah Cuffee, but Luke Frampton still makes this team very dangerous. Poca has some good players around him, and Bronson Skeens could emerge as a very good second option for the Dots. North Marion had been one of the lower seeds the last two seasons but looks to be one of the better teams in the Big Ten this season after adding 6’9” impact player Jude Akabueze. I really have almost no feel for how this game will go, so I am very much looking forward to it.

Harrison County state tournament regulars Bridgeport and Robert C. Byrd were hit particularly hard with graduation last year. The Indians graduated all five of their starters from last year, and RCB has four to replace. The squads that have finished in the top-3 of the Big Ten and advanced to the state tournament each of the last four years are in a bit of a transition season, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t still be good.. RCB split a pair of games at Fairmont Senior’s tipoff classic before falling at Philip Barbour earlier this week, and Bridgeport has yet to start its season.

Bridgeport will take on a Mingo Central squad with an entirely new look. Jeremy Dillon transferred over to Central from Tug Valley this year, and he will make a huge immediate impact. Also, the Miners have a freshman guard in Drew Hatfield that already has a year of varsity experience after starting for Sheldon Clark (KY) last year as an 8th grader. (Middle schoolers are allowed to play varsity in KY.)

Logan, which will take on RCB, is back in the Cardinal Conference and is off to a pretty good start to the season. Freshman David Early is averaging 23 ppg through three games to pace the Wildcats, who blew out two conference opponents before dropping a close one at Wyoming East on Thursday.

The matchup between Philip Barbour and Winfield doesn’t feel like a matchup of 6-seeds to me, as both of these teams are good. The Colts are 4-0 and averaging 84 ppg, led by a pair of guards that are each averaging more than 20 in Spencer Hudkins (25 ppg) and Austin Upton (23). Winfield has a lot back from a squad that competed in the AAA MSAC last year and gave top-seeded Chapmanville a strong test earlier this week before falling 66-55. These teams have a chance to be very competitive in their regions, and I think this could be a very good game.

Full Schedule

All Games at Robert C. Byrd High School

Friday, December 16, 2016

Big 10                         Cardinal                      Seed

5:00                 Grafton                       Wayne                         10

6:30                 Liberty                        Herbert Hoover        9

8:00                 Lincoln                        Scott                            8

Saturday, December 17, 2016

11:00               Lewis County             Nitro                            7

12:30               Philip Barbour             Winfield                   6

2:00                 Robert C. Byrd           Logan                           5

3:30                 Bridgeport                   Mingo Central           4

5:00                 East Fairmont              Sissonville                 3

6:30                 North Marion              Poca                            2

8:00                 Fairmont Senior          Chapmanville           1

2016-17 Season Preview: Class A

The final classification remaining to preview is Single-A. Before we jump in region by region, here are some larger Class A notes:

-This year’s reclassification has made “A” huge, with sections as big as eight teams and regions as big as 15.

-Some of them are pretty crazy because of just how many schools have to be in them. One region stretches from McDowell County to Charleston to Webster County. Another spans Mingo County to Huntington to Mason County.

-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: Bishop Donahue, Cameron, Hundred, Madonna, Valley (W), Wheeling Central

Section 2: Magnolia, Paden City, St. Marys, Tyler Consolidated, Ritchie County

Wheeling Central lost standout Chase Harler to graduation, but they return most of the rest of their key pieces from last year’s state runner-up squad. Both John Burkhalter and Brent Price got better and better throughout last season and were really good at the state tournament. Gabe Rohmann and Owen Gainer are solid guards who can knock down shots. Harler will be difficult to replace, but the Maroon Knights will have plenty of pieces to do so. I look for Central be one of the best teams in Class A all season long and have a good shot to win the state championship.

Because Magnolia lost just about everything from last year’s semifinalist, this region is wide open after Central. I’m not really sure what to expect from the Blue Eagles this season, and they very well may still contend to make it back to Charleston.

Central and Magnolia have dominated this region over the last four years, but the other schools have had some good teams in that time. Bishop Donahue, Cameron, Madonna, Valley (W), Paden City, and St. Marys have all had squads capable of making it to Charleston in that run but couldn’t knock off one of those top two teams. Because these schools are a long way from where I live, I don’t get to see them with as much frequency, so I am not sure which of them are in the best position to make a run at that state tournament berth. It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on which teams in this region emerge throughout the course of the season.

My best guess is that it will be Bishop Donahue led by Taylor Straughn. I’ve not seen the Bishops play in a few years and have not yet seen Straughn in person, but I know he can really score. I look forward to seeing them play again this season.

Region 2

Section 1: Clay-Battelle, Doddridge County, Gilmer County, Notre Dame, South Harrison, Trinity Christian, Tygarts Valley

Section 2: East Hardy, Harman, Moorefield, Paw Paw, Pendleton County, Tucker County, Union, WV School for the Deaf

Notre Dame looks primed to make its fifth consecutive trip to the state tournament and make a deep run once they get there. Standout Jarrod West should average 25-30 ppg in his senior season, and junior big man Todd Griffith gives them a strong presence inside. The Irish have lost a few heartbreakers at the state tournament in recent seasons, but this could be the year they break through. They have a real chance at the championship.

I feel like I could copy and paste a preseason section on Tucker County from one year to the next. Last season marked the 15th consecutive trip to the state tournament for the Mountain Lions, including all 14 since dropping down to Single-A. Guard Ethan Crosten, who hit one of the best shots I’ve ever seen from half court to beat Preston at the buzzer last year, is a key returner for the Mountain Lions. It’s certainly possible that Tucker will get knocked off this year, but I suppose we’ll just continue to pencil them into a spot in the tournament until someone does so.

Pendleton County could be one of those teams that challenges to knock off Tucker in the section. Luke Cooper and Trey Cooper are really good athletes, and the Wildcats could be pretty good this year.

I think Trinity, Gilmer County, and Moorefield will also be in the mix for one of the spots in the state tournament from this region.

Region 3

Section 1: Charleston Catholic, Fayetteville, Midland Trail, Pocahontas County, Richwood, Valley (F), Webster County

Section 2: Greater Beckley Christian, Greenbrier West, Meadow Bridge, Montcalm, Mount View, Summers County

Fayetteville is the lone team in this region that advanced to the state tournament a year ago, and they have just about everyone back from that team. I look for the Pirates, led by Will Fenton and Ricky Meadows, to be the best team in this region and one of the favorites to make it back to the state tournament.

Beyond Fayetteville, it’s hard to identify what other teams will be atop this region. Charleston Catholic is the biggest traditional power in the region, but they were down a little last year. They could be back in the mix again this year.

Greater Beckley Christian had a tough season a year ago after some of their top players transferred out, but I expect them to be much improved this year. I also won’t be surprised if Greenbrier West, Mount View, and Webster County are competitive in this region as well.

Region 4

Section 1: Calhoun County, Parkersburg Catholic, Ravenswood, Wirt, Wahama, Williamstown

Section 2: Buffalo, Hannan, Sherman, St. Joseph, Tolsia, Tug Valley, Van

This region is absolutely loaded. Four of these teams (St. Joe, Tug, Ravenswood, Parkersburg Catholic) were in the state tournament last year, and a fifth (Van) very nearly was. All of those schools have a lot returning from those teams, too, which makes this region very difficult to navigate.

The discussion in these region must begin with St. Joseph, the Class A state champion a year ago. The Irish were expected to be overwhelming favorites to repeat as champions this year, returning their stellar guard trio of Deaundra Murphy, Keith Clemons, and John Dawson. Two of those three transferred, though, with Clemons heading to Wesley Christian, a prep school in Kentucky, and Dawson returning to Huntington High. Now, they won’t be the massive favorites as expected, but they will still be very good. I look for Murphy to have a huge season averaging 25+ ppg, and state tournament breakout star John Morrison will step into a larger role as well. They will still have a chance to repeat.

Some similar things can be said about Tug Valley. After reaching the semifinals a year ago with a bunch of underclassmen, the Panthers were expected to be among the title favorites again this year. Jeremy Dillon transferring to Mingo Central will certainly hurt Tug, but it will not completely cripple them. Led by returners Tyler May, Jonathan Blankenship, and Garrett Brown, I look for the Panthers to have another really good year and be among the top teams in this region and the state.

Ravenswood is the team to really watch for in this region. The Red Devils are coming off consecutive trips to the state tournament in AA and have just about everyone back from last year’s squad. With great size and shooting ability on the wing, Riley Heatherington is very difficult to guard. Isaiah Morgan is another steady scorer, and Stephen Dawson gives them a very good presence inside. This team could be good enough to win it all this year.

Parkersburg Catholic is the other team from this region that was in the tournament last season. Point Guard AJ Collins sets the tone for the team, and Cade Ullman and Logan Plummer are really good returners as well. As is the case with several teams in this region, I think they will be very good and potential state title contenders, but also potentially not one of the top two teams in this region. We’ll see how it all plays out, but it will not be easy in this region this year.

Van will be good again this season. Junior Taylor Jarrell is a great shooter and scorer, and Cole Price is a strong rebounding and scoring presence inside. The Bulldogs will win a bunch of games, but they have to find a way to get over the St. Joe/Tug hurdle in their section.

Williamstown lost a lot from last year, but they have developed a really good program and seem to be able to compete every year. I suspect they’ll be competitive in that section again this year.

2016-17 Season Preview: Class AA

After taking a look at AAA, we move on to Class AA. Before diving into each region, here are a few overall notes on AA:

-The same reclassification that slightly diluted the AAA field has caused the AA (and A) classes to become quite crowded with strong hoops programs.

-Regions 3 and 4 are pretty similar to recent years, but there is a significant change in regions 1 and 2. The Marion County and Northern Panhandle schools are now aligned with the eastern schools in Region 1, and the Harrison County schools match up with a section containing a new assortment of schools in the central part of the state that extends all the way to Herbert Hoover and Nicholas County

-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: Berkeley Springs, Frankfort, Grafton, Keyser, Petersburg, Philip Barbour

Section 2: East Fairmont, Fairmont Senior, North Marion, Oak Glen, Weir

The discussion of this region has to begin with defending champion Fairmont Senior. The Polar Bears return a lot of talent from that championship team. Zyon Dobbs really came on toward the end of last season as a freshman, and I think he could have a huge season. They return a great shooting weapon in Brennan Moorehead, versatile athletes in Bryson Gilbert and Justin Lee, and a strong inside presence in Dante’ Stills. They certainly have all the pieces and will begin the season as favorites to repeat. The loss of Darhius Nunn, who willed this team to the title a year ago, leaves quite a void in both talent and leadership. The Polar Bears should certainly have enough talent to fill that gap, though that part is not always as easy as it may seem.

North Marion looks to be in good position to be the other state tournament team from this region. The Huskies will feature athletic 6’9” junior Jude Akabueze, who should make a big impact after sitting out last season. East Fairmont should play a factor in that section as well.

I look for Philip Barbour to have a good season and be in the mix for a state tournament spot. The Colts looked really good both times I saw them last year, and they have a good guard duo in Austin Upton and Spencer Hudkins.

Four of the teams (everyone but PB Grafton) in section 1 were a section in the previous alignment, and none of them were able to break through for a state tournament berth. (RCB and Bridgeport advanced to the state tournament from that region all 4 years.) They all had their ups and downs in that span, and I’m not sure which of them might emerge as a major player in that section this year.

Region 2

Section 1: Bridgeport, Elkins, Liberty (H), Lincoln, Robert C. Byrd

Section 2: Braxton County, Clay County, Herbert Hoover, Lewis County, Nicholas County, Roane County

If I am going to be honest, I must say that I have no clue what is going to happen in this region. The easy thing to say is the Bridgeport and Robert C. Byrd should return to the state tournament because they both did so all four years after moving down from AAA, but as I look through their rosters, I see a few names that I recognized and a whole bunch that I don’t. Both teams lost a lot of really good players and their primary scorers from last year’s teams. I have no reason to believe that either team will be bad, but I also can’t just automatically pencil them into the state tournament. I’m looking forward to seeing how each of these teams will take shape this season.

Lincoln also lost some good players, but they have a few back as well. The Cougars have been good the last two seasons but couldn’t get over that Bridgeport/RCB hurdle. Perhaps they will have a shot to break through this season.

This is certainly a big change of scenery for Herbert Hoover, which heads north in the new alignment away from the rest of its fellow Cardinal Conference members. They should have a decent chance to win that section.

Nicholas County is another team that could benefit from a change in regional scenery. They should be in the mix in their section as well. Lewis County should also be competitive in AA after some good AAA years.

Region 3

Section 1: Independence, Liberty (R), Oak Hill, Westside, Wyoming East

Section 2: Bluefield, James Monroe, PikeView, River View, Shady Spring

Region 3 is often the most entertaining region in AA, and it may very well be again this season. Bluefield should be really good again this year led by junior guard duo Mookie Collier and Donta’ Hopkins. They will have plenty of good players to go around them as well. Bluefield’s freshman class was great in middle school, and I’ll be interested to see if any of them are ready to contribute on a varsity level this year.

Westside was led primarily by sophomores a year ago, and I look for them to have a strong junior season. This includes leading scorer Shane Jenkins, PG Isaiah Lester, and 6’6” Cory Hatfield. This team could be really good this year and great next year.

Wyoming East lost a ton from last year’s semifinalist, but I’m not quite ready to write this team off just yet. Johnathan Sims returns as the starting PG, and Dylan Brehm has a lot of experience inside. The Warriors will be a factor.

PikeView was a sectional champion a year ago, and the Panthers have quite a few of those players back. Seth Meadows is a special player and very consistent scorer.

Shady Spring will be an interesting team to watch throughout this year. The Tigers quietly improved a lot over the course of last season but couldn’t become a major factor in their AAA region, especially after losing leading scorer Jon Sawyers. They return every player from that team, and they could be an immediate factor in this region after dropping back to AA.

I look for Independence to have another good year, led by Tyler Haga and Markus Guy.

Oak Hill struggled its last couple years in AAA, but the Red Devils were one of the state’s premier programs when they were last in AA. I’m interested to see how long it takes them to become contenders again.

Region 4

Section 1: Point Pleasant, Nitro, Poca, Sissonville, Wayne, Winfield

Section 2: Chapmanville, Lincoln County, Logan, Man, Mingo Central, Scott

Poca will undoubtedly will be hurt by Elijah Cuffee transferring out of state for his senior season, but I think they will still be really good. With Cuffee gone, the bulk of the scoring load will fall on Luke Frampton, and I expect him to have a monster season. In fact, I won’t be surprised if Frampton averages 30+ points this season and wins the state player of the year award. (It’s hard to describe how good he looked when I saw him play this fall.) Poca will also have some good guys to go around him. I think JP Phillips will do well in an expanded offensive role, and Chase Dotson is a big, strong presence inside. The Dots won’t be quite as invincible as they have been in recent years, but they will still be very tough.

Chapmanville looks to be the biggest threat to end Poca’s string of Cardinal Conference championships. The Tigers return outstanding junior Drew Williamson and two other solid junior guards in Kyle Browning and Dylan Smith. I’ve not yet seen 6’8” freshman forward Obinna Anochili-Killen play, but by all reports, he could make a huge impact for Chapmanville this season. If everything comes together for the Tigers, they could make a run at a state championship.

Mingo Central could also develop into a contender. The Miners added Marshall commit Jeremy Dillon, whose size and ball skills make him a constant matchup problem. Central also added freshman Drew Hatfield, who started for Sheldon Clark (KY) last year as an 8th grader. (1. Eighth-graders are allowed to play varsity in KY. 2. Hatfield is a Mingo County native, and his father, Kevin, was hired as Central’s head coach this year.) Big man Daniel Buchanan will give the Miners a good presence inside, and he and Dillon could really hurt teams on the boards. Because this group is relatively new playing together and several of their better players just finished playing football about 3 days ago, it could take them a little while to round into shape. Come February and March, though, they could be really good.

I look for Winfield to be in the mix right away in this section/region. Senior Tate Hancock will be a strong presence inside, but the Generals have a bunch of good underclassmen, including PG Braeden McGrew and forwards Andrew Huff and Brian Fisher. Add in a really good freshman class, a few of which will play important minutes this season, and Winfield has a really bright future.

Sissonville has been knocking on the door, losing tough contests in the regional finals each of the last two seasons. The Indians return all of their starters from a year ago, but this section and region is now very crowded with good teams after the realignment. Sissonville will have a chance to break through and earn a trip to the state tournament, but the road is tough.

It just feels right to have Logan back in AA (along with Winfield and Oak Hill). Senior Braxton Goff is a key returner, and freshman David Early will make an immediate impact for the Wildcats. I look for Logan to be a player in this section.

Lincoln County returns just about everyone from their core that has had back-to-back winning seasons. They did catch a break moving down from AAA this season, but this region won’t necessarily be easy to navigate. If this group has continued to improve, they could be a threat in their section.

Scott has two returning starters and a good group of mostly inexperienced sophomores. They will probably be a little up and down throughout the season as they gain experience. They are probably a year away from threatening to make it to the state tournament, but they have a chance to be dangerous in the postseason if they keep improving.

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