Tug-Tolsia could turn out to be Shootout's main event
A state tournament feel could hover in the air for tonight's "Shootout at the Big House'' taking place at the Charleston Civic Center.
And well it should.
All four of the Class AAA boys basketball teams participating in today's event - South Charleston, Wheeling Park, Logan and George Washington - are among the usual suspects at the state tournament every March. All four have made it there the last two seasons, and Logan and GW, in fact, are the past two state champions.
Top-ranked SC (17-2) takes on No. 6 Park (13-5) at approximately 4:45 p.m., and the teams tied for eighth in this week's AAA poll - GW (12-5) and Logan (13-5) - tangle at about 8:15.
But sandwiched between those tantalizing triple-A tussles is perhaps the game of the night.
The Class AA showdown between No. 4 Tug Valley (15-2) and No. 5 Tolsia (13-4) is, at the very least, the equal of any of the other games on today's five-game boys card at the Shootout.
Not only does it pit two of the state's top-five teams in the rankings, but it very well could decide the top seed in the power-packed Region 4 Section 2 grouping later this month that includes Chapmanville and Mingo Central.
As if that wasn't enough, there is star power on the floor in the form of Jacob Copley, Tolsia's 6-foot-3 senior forward. Copley carries a 21-point scoring average and his athleticism has helped make him a cult hero in the southern coalfields.
In football, Copley both ran and passed for 1,000 yards in his senior season; in basketball, some of his spectacular dunks are all the rage on Internet message boards, including a pair last Friday against Chapmanville.
"In our eyes in this area, he's one of the better players in the state, and not just double-A,'' said Tolsia coach Jason Hatfield. "Maybe I'm a little bit biased, but if you get out and watch some games, he has to be one of the best players in West Virginia. He handles the ball, he shoots it pretty well. As some people saw in the Chapmanville game, he's definitely pretty explosive when he goes to the basket.''
Tug won't be without its own firepower, as 5-11 junior Mikey Newsome (16.7), 6-9 senior Mason Pack (15.0) and 6-0 junior Austin Brewer (12.3) all average in double figures. Copley is backed by Morgan Stacy (13.2) and its own Austin Brewer (11.0).
"It's a prime-time game,'' said Tug Valley coach Garland Thompson. "They've got a good basketball team, and I know they'll be ready to play. The thing is both of us play [Tuesday night], then we both have to get up and travel for this one. But it's one to get excited about.''
Perhaps a little too much excitement has kept the power programs, separated by less than 40 miles, from playing recently.
Thompson said both ends of a home-and-home series were wiped out by snow a few years back, but events taking place inside the gym have been the culprit in recent seasons.
"It's a natural rivalry,'' Thompson said, "and we've tried to play the last few years. For whatever reasons, we can't get a home-and-home. [The closeness affects things] because there's family members on both sides - cousins twice removed, things like that. We have played in places like the Williamson Field House, and this year at the Civic Center. We should at least try to play one, two times a year.''
Hatfield was a bit more specific about the rivalry.
"Our administration and superintendent of schools will not allow us to go to Tug Valley,'' he said, "and they will not allow Tug Valley to come to our place because of some past skirmishes here and there. They don't allow us to play a home-and-home.''
Each team harbors its own state tournament dreams, and familiarizing themselves with the Civic Center floor does nothing to hurt those chances.
"Most of my kids have played there,'' Thompson said, "all except for [6-7 senior] Richman Vance. Hopefully, we'll advance far enough and this will give him a little [experience] to fall back on.''
When Logan coach Mark Hatcher (the event's co-organizer with GW coach Rick Greene) first came to the schools with the offer to play at the Civic Center, Hatfield said his program couldn't afford to pass.
"I'm sure everyone's goal at the start of the season is to play on the Civic Center floor in March,'' Hatfield said. "When Coach Hatcher presented me the opportunity, I certainly thought it would be great to get the kids on that floor. If we're lucky enough to get there in March, we know it's a different atmosphere, but we'll be used to it a bit.
"We certainly hope that it is [a good game]. If we show up ready to play and do things the right way, it should be a close game. If we show up lackadaisical and not ready to play, we might get embarrassed.''
The five-game show starts at 1:15 p.m. with Lincoln County taking on Nicholas County. That game will be followed by Scott and Cabell Midland at about 3.
Park is led by Boo Lathon (19 points, nine rebounds) and SC by brothers Ot Elmore (15.4 points) and Jon Elmore (13.7). Logan relies on Stevie Browning (25.7) and GW's top scorer is Luke Eddy (15.4).
Tickets are priced at $6 for students and adults.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.