CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There's something to be said for having been there and done that.
When top-seeded Tug Valley was faced with a tense, tight third quarter in Friday afternoon's Class A semifinals, the Panthers roared past No. 4 Tucker County for a 54-41 win. A crowd of 7,181 attended the three-game morning session at the Charleston Civic Center.
The Panthers (24-3) will take on No. 3 and defending champion Charleston Catholic (24-3) at noon today in the title game at the Civic Center. Tug is seeking back-to-back titles after winning it all in Class AA last year, then dropping to Class A when the 2012-13 school year began this past fall. The Panthers walloped the Fighting Irish by 23 points (61-38) in the Shootout at the Big House in mid-February at the Civic Center.
Tucker (21-4) made its 12th straight trip to states but has yet to play for a state title since 2004.
The Panthers only held a two-point lead (25-23) with 5:19 left in the third quarter, but just like clockwork they began feeling the urgency to put some distance between themselves and the Mountain Lions.
Tug went on a 12-2 run to take a more comfortable 37-25 advantage with 2:51 remaining in the period. Panthers senior guard Mike Newsome punctuated the outburst with eight straight points on a layup, 3-pointer and three-point play on a layup and foul shot.
Tucker closed within seven points (37-30) by the end of the third quarter, but Tug responded again by netting the first six points of the fourth to go ahead by double digits at 43-30. The Panthers stretched their advantage to 13 points before the Mountain Lions started cutting into it late in the final quarter, but by then it was too much to overcome.
"I don't know if we had our 'A' game, but I thought our kids scratched and dug it out,'' said Tug Valley coach Garland Thompson. "[Tucker County] fought tooth and nail, not wanting to give anything.''