Perfect ending for SC
There are no unbeaten boys teams left in West Virginia, but South Charleston wrapped up a perfect season of sorts Saturday night.
The Black Eagles completed their romp through the Mountain State Athletic Conference with a 71-68 comeback victory against Woodrow Wilson in the boys title game during the MSAC Night of Champions at the SC Community Center.
South Charleston went 15-0 against league opponents during the regular season, and added the school's first conference championship since 2009.
"How can you not be happy with a championship - 16-0 in this league,'' said SC coach Vic Herbert. "That's as good as you can get in what, in my opinion, is the toughest league in the state.''
Saturday's game hardly resembled the teams' first meeting of the season, in which the Black Eagles thumped Woodrow 61-45 at the Community Center. The Flying Eagles were almost never in it that night, shooting 23 percent in that game, and 3-of-25 from 3-point range.
On Saturday, however, Woodrow led by as many as 14 midway into the third quarter and was still up by six points at about the four-minute mark. The Flying Eagles also shot better (7-of-14 from long range) and outrebounded SC 32-30.
But the Beckley school couldn't get a defensive stop when SC started making its move. Trevond Reese hit six straight low-post baskets in the third quarter and freshman A.D. Cunningham came off the bench to sink 7-of-9 shots in the game.
"Give them credit because they played us tough,'' Reese said, "but I just knew if I got the ball, I was either going to score or get fouled because they couldn't guard me inside. I was too strong for them.
"I'm just so thrilled right now that we can come in here and go 16-0 in the toughest league in the state. This is a blessing.''
Woodrow coach Ron Kidd was still searching for answers after the game, albeit not as many as he sought after the first meeting in January.
"We've got to get stronger inside,'' Kidd said. "I think we're 6-6 and 6-3 and Reese, it seems like he's 5-9. Come on, now. He's a man, he's tough. But we've got to be tougher than that.
"Make him go to the foul line. The kids let him do what he wanted to do right there. Somebody's got to accept that challenge. He's tough, but we've got to be tougher.''
The spirited comeback was just what SC (18-3) needed following a 60-51 loss to Wheeling Park at the Civic Center. The Black Eagles have one regular-season game left at Class AA power Wyoming East Wednesday before opening sectional play.
"The Wheeling Park game took a toll on us,'' Reese said, "but we came in here and we wanted to win. We just knew we could do it again. We believed in our coaches, our fans, everybody. It was a community effort.''
The Black Eagles could retain their status as the state's No. 1 team when the Class AAA rankings are released today and Herbert said the team is still intent on capturing the top seeds for upcoming sectional and regional play, and perhaps beyond.
"I tell the kids we're fighting our guts out right now to get a one or a two seed,'' Herbert said. "We've got to win the sectional and regional against good competition, but if we can get to the state tournament, the No. 1 and No. 2 [seeds] get a break.
"The No. 1 seed plays on a Wednesday night [in the first round of the state tournament] and No. 2 plays at 11:15 Wednesday morning. So look at all that rest you get until you play [the semifinals on Friday]. That's what I explained to the kids - it's important to try and get the 1 or 2 seed.''
Boo who? No more
The field for this year's Evans Award as the boys basketball state player of the year seems more wide-open than it's been in a long time.
Another player who threw hit hat into the ring in a big way was Wheeling Park senior Boo Lathon, who produced 22 points and 18 rebounds in Wednesday's 60-51 win over No. 1 SC at the Charleston Civic Center.
Lathon pushed his averages to 19.7 points and 9.6 rebounds for the Patriots (16-5), the AAA state tournament runners-up the past two seasons.
"He's strong enough to take most guys in there at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds,'' said Park coach Michael Jebbia.
"In triple-A, it's been a season where there's been a lot of good teams. Last year, you had the star players and this year Boo Lathon has kind of emerged as one of the top players in the state, if not a candidate for player of the year.''
Sometimes Herbert Hoover leans on its leading scorer a little too much.
Senior guard Charlton Gandee, whose 18.3 scoring average tops the Huskies, has been slowed a few games this season, and it usually results in bad news for Hoover.
He's been held to 14 points or fewer seven times this season, and the Huskies' record in those games is 2-5.
His coach and father, Jeff Gandee, said the team often has trouble scoring enough points to win when Charlton doesn't approach his average.
"I've heard that,'' Charlton Gandee said, "and at first I didn't believe it. But it has showed up a couple times, and I take the blame for it. I just haven't been shooting very well.
"But I started to shoot well [in Friday's 52-34 win versus Poca]. I figured out the trouble on my shot, and we scored better.''
High on Highlanders
Huntington could prove to be an X-factor heading into the AAA postseason owing to its rapid improvement and current 11-9 record.
The Highlanders, who started off the season 3-7, have won eight of their last 10 and three in a row against solid programs. Those last three came against Winfield, Logan and Parkersburg, who have a combined 41 victories.
"We kind of knew that,'' Huntington coach Ron Hess said of the improvement, "and we talked about it all year long.
"We're starting three sophomores, a junior and a senior and we knew there would be a learning curve for us. We told them if the team would stay together and work hard, we thought we'd be a pretty good basketball team at the end of the year.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.