CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Perhaps as a salute to the 100th state tournament, Tug Valley decided to make a little history of its own on Saturday.
Aaron Muncy dropped in a career-best 21 points and the Panthers' relentless defense and boardwork eventually wore down Charleston Catholic, leading to a 58-41 victory in the Class A championship game at the Civic Center.
Tug (25-3), the top seed and the state's No. 1-ranked team, became the first school to ever win titles in different classes in consecutive years. The Panthers captured the double-A crown last year before dropping down a division.
"No sweeter three words do I know than back-to-back, right now,'' said Panthers coach Garland "Rabbit'' Thompson.
Tug Valley, in winning its 15th straight game, also became the first public school to earn a Class A title since Williamson in 2001, and did it on a noteworthy day in which two defending state champions met in the finals, another first. The Irish claimed the single-A crown last year.
Just like when the teams met in the regular season, a 61-38 Tug victory at the Civic Center on Feb. 13, the Panthers turned a back-and-forth game into a runaway at the conclusion, and their three senior guards - Muncy, Mikey Newsome and Austin Brewer - were the big reasons why.
Muncy, averaging just 6.5 points coming into the game, softened up the Irish zone defense with four first-half 3-pointers and also grabbed seven rebounds, Brewer donated 15 points and five assists and Newsome 10 points and four assists.
"These kids know how to play and these kids know how to win,'' Thompson said of his backcourt trio. "I'm tickled to death with all three of them. It was a big-time effort by these guys.''
Third-seeded Charleston Catholic (24-4), playing in the Class A title game for an eighth time in the past nine years, was in good position for nearly three quarters, even dodging potential disaster before halftime when its No. 2 and 3 scorers - guard Garret McCarty and forward Zach Casto - were both on the bench with two fouls. Casto, in fact, picked up his third foul 35 seconds into the third quarter.
The Irish led much of the first half, though, including a 23-19 edge early in the second quarter. But after scoring 23 points in the game's first 9:14, they only managed 18 the rest of the way.
One stretch in particular doomed Catholic, when it managed just one field goal over a stretch of 9:26 between the third and fourth quarters. In that time, Tug's lead ballooned from 32-29 to 49-33.
"I thought that for probably the first eight, 10 minutes, we played at as high a level as we could have,'' said Irish coach Bill McClanahan. "We were as efficient and as smart and as well-prepared as we could have been. Then we leveled back off and when you play Tug Valley, that's not a team that will allow you that leveling.''
Catholic often got good looks during that span, like when McCarty and top scorer Nick George made nice drives to get to the rim, but then came up short with layup attempts.
"When the lead ballooned, it sapped us a little bit,'' McClanahan said.
Brewer especially knew what to do at that point, extending Tug possessions in a spread offense with some nifty dribbling in the backcourt, often setting up teammates for easy baskets as Irish defenders gave futile chase.