History made, celebrated at 100th tourney
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- What goes around, comes around. And it sure came back full circle for the 100th boys basketball state tournament that wrapped up Saturday at the Civic Center.
For the first time since the coaches seeding process was adopted in 2005, all three teams seeded No. 1 captured titles - Martinsburg (AAA), Bluefield (AA) and Tug Valley (A).
Those three teams were also ranked No. 1 in their respective classes in The Associated Press state media poll at the end of the regular season. In fact, the three title games matched teams seeded 1-2 in AAA and AA and 1-3 in Class A.
It certainly was a far reach from last year, when none of the top seeds triumphed - No. 2s won in AA and A and No. 7 Hedgesville completed a wild run in AAA by taking its first title since 1970. Higher seeds went 1-6 in the AAA tournament last year, with the only win coming from No. 1 Martinsburg against No. 8 Logan, and No. 1s still haven't lost to a No. 8 yet in any class, going 27-0.
The star of stars last week had to be Martinsburg senior forward Donte' Grantham, known as Buddha to his teammates and even coaches for his stoic expressions.
The 6-foot-7 Grantham, being recruited by several Division I schools, including West Virginia, averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds in his three tournament games and also chipped in eight assists, six blocked shots and two steals and threw down three slam dunks.
His steady play was magnified because no other Martinsburg player averaged double figures in scoring in those three games. He also never came off the floor, playing all 32 minutes in each game as the Bulldogs won by margins of 10, three and five points, the latter coming against Woodrow Wilson in the finals.
Grantham, considered a top candidate for the state player of the year honor, was ecstatic that the AAA basketball title remained in the Eastern Panhandle and that Martinsburg had pulled off a rare football-basketball double in the same school year.
"We're gonna keep the rings in the EP,'' he blurted in the postgame interview room.
Martinsburg coach Dave Rogers was pleased his players could finally cash in their status for a title. The Bulldogs had been ranked No. 1 much of the past two seasons.
"This is a very special group of young men,'' Rogers said. "They are as good off the court as they are on the court. You don't hear negative things about them.
"They've traveled all over the country the last couple of years - Myrtle Beach, Ohio, New York - and just had a great time. They've played a very, very tough schedule this year against some great teams, and Beckley certainly is a great team.''
Martinsburg also got a welcome boost from 6-5, 270-pound senior Eugene German, an all-state lineman on the school's three-time champion football team.
German hit all four of his shots for eight points in Saturday's 57-52 win, grabbed four rebounds and swiped the ball twice. He joined Grantham and teammate Jalen Lewis on the all-tournament team.
"There was a period when he wasn't sure whether he wanted to play or not [after football season],'' Rogers said. "He did and then he didn't, then he did and didn't. But we're sure glad he did. The first quarter was the best quarter he played all year. He was like a man possessed, shooting and rebounding the ball.''
On the other side of the floor, Woodrow Wilson came up short in its bid for a 17th state title - more than any other school - and was also trying to become the 12th Mountain State Athletic Conference program to win a Class AAA crown in the past 17 years.
Despite the close loss, it was a satisfying finish for the Flying Eagles, who had doubts early in the season when they started out 4-4, including three straight home losses and five straight games under 60 points.
"Our own people counted us out,'' said Woodrow coach Ron Kidd. "Our own newspaper counted us out. We showed what pride and tradition are all about in Beckley.
"We always expect to be here, even though we lost those games. We felt we'd getter better because we were practicing hard and trying to get better. I always feel pretty good about this team. Good things happen when you work hard.''
The Eagles' run brought an end to the career of senior point guard Andrew Johnson, a three-year starter and also the school's quarterback in football. Johnson averaged 17.6 points, 6.3 assists and 5.8 rebounds in the tournament.
"We'll surely miss him a whole lot,'' Kidd said. "He played good and at the end of the season, he carried us on his back the way a senior should. It's a big loss to our program.''
But the tournament also gave rise to perhaps a new star for the Beckley school in 6-3 freshman Nequan Carrington, who averaged 10.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in three games.
"It's scary what he can be as a senior,'' Johnson said. "I'm kind of jealous of him. My freshman year, I didn't even go to the tournament, and his freshman year he's in the state championship. I'm jealous of him.''
South Charleston, which made it to the semifinals before losing to Woodrow, can only hope it keeps making the ascent.
The Black Eagles had lost in the first round of the state tournament the past two years, but got by Morgantown in quarterfinals and challenged the MSAC champion Flying Eagles one night later, losing 64-57.
SC's seniors end their careers on an uptick, going 19-7 as freshmen, 20-6 as sophomores, 21-5 as juniors and 24-3 this season.
"Our seniors won close to 90 games in four years,'' said Black Eagles coach Vic Herbert. "I can't say how proud I am of them and what they've accomplished the last three, four years. It's kind of remarkable, to tell you the truth.
"These seniors came in when I did, so they're special to me. A lot of coaches say that, but I truly mean it. These guys are important to me and I'm going to follow them through their lives as long as I live, and do as much as I can do for them.''
The Class AA field got an infusion of new talent when four Big 10 Conference schools blitzed their way to town, with three of them advancing to the semifinal round.
Runner-up Fairmont Senior, semifinalists Robert C. Byrd and Bridgeport and quarterfinalist North Marion were all schools that dropped down from Class AAA following last season.
Well, the rest of the division had better get used to it, since they're not going anywhere. The new enrollment figures remain in place for at least three more years.
Tolsia coach Jason Hatfield, who took his team to the AA semifinals last year and lost to RCB in the first round this year, noticed the difference in styles.
"They're pretty good defensively,'' Hatfield said, "and certainly their pressure defense and the way they play in spurts. Their games are games of runs.
"Coming down from triple-A, that's the kind of stuff and the style they play. They like to pressure. If you watch triple-A games, they like to use pressure defense and that's something we're not used to. We knew it was coming and tried to simulate it in practice, but there's not much you can do to simulate that. We didn't shoot the basketball well, but that's in large part to their defense.''
About the only thing Tug Valley didn't do in sweeping to the Class A crown was shoot free throws (the Panthers were 31 of 53, 58.5 percent).
But that was about the only hiccup along the way as they won three games by average of 18-plus points to earn a second straight title, beating Charleston Catholic 58-41 in the finals. It was the eighth title-game appearance for the Irish in the last nine years.
Tug took the AA championship last year against Bluefield, which recovered to win in double-A on Saturday.
Panthers coach Garland "Rabbit'' Thompson enjoyed adding to the rich legacy of Mingo County basketball.
It marked the third title for Tug, which opened in 1987, and was the 16th in all for the county - Williamson had six, Burch four, Kermit two and Lenore one. Williamson and Burch were part of the recent Mingo Central consolidation and Kermit and Lenore went into the Tug Valley merger.
"They call Beckley the City of Champions,'' Thompson said, "but I'll bet Mingo County is right there close to them [Woodrow and Mingo are now tied at 16 titles each]. Anybody who's been to the state tournament has heard of Mingo County.
"The 100 years is special. We went to that [SSAC banquet] Tuesday and they showed pictures of all the state champions, and it is very special. They said there have been more state tournaments than there are NCAA tournaments. Hopefully when we're all gone in the next 100 years, somebody will be sitting up here and maybe they'll mention Tug Valley.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.