CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This year's state tournament has given new credence to the phrase, "pick on someone your own size."
That's exactly what a handful of schools have done after dropping in classification this season.
Class AA best illustrated this trend as three of the four semifinalists - Fairmont Senior, Robert C. Byrd, and Bridgeport - were in Class AAA last season. Add in No. 8 North Marion, which fell in the first round to Bluefield, and exactly half of the Class AA field was made up of schools that made the switch downward.
Class AA isn't the only place to see the effects of reclassification as the top two seeds in Class A were also schools that dropped down a level.
With a semifinal win on Friday, No. 1 Tug Valley became the first team in 48 years to win a championship (AA last year), then play for a title in a different class the following season. Williamson took the AA crown in 1964 and brought an unbeaten record into the 1965 AAA finals, but lost to Woodrow Wilson 69-67.
Class A No. 2 Magnolia fell in the first round to No. 7 Wheeling Central and the Blue Eagles were in the state tournament in Class AA last year, falling to Tolsia in the first round.
Panhandling for gold
If it seems like Eastern Panhandle schools have been dominating the high-profile Class AAA sports recently, well, it's because they are.
During the last five school years (2008-09 to present), Martinsburg has captured three football championships, Jefferson and Martinsburg have taken baseball crowns and tonight, with Martinsburg playing in the boys basketball finals, it gives the EP a chance to win a third title in that sport.
Hedgesville emerged as the AAA basketball champ last March, three years after Martinsburg prevailed at the Civic Center in 2009.
"You've got to remember,'' said Martinsburg coach Dave Rogers, "that 10, 12 years ago Berkeley County was the 10th largest county in population of students, and now we're No. 2 to Kanawha, and our enrollment just keeps going up. We open up a fourth high school in the county, Spring Mills, next year and we're all triple-A.
"The growth is there in the Eastern Panhandle, being so close to D.C. and Baltimore. There's never a year where we don't have growth. It's not like it was, and it's going to continue to grow, no question about that. The programs are good, the community's good and the city of Martinsburg is into the youth. They help us any way they can when we ask them. It's a nice play to live.''
Second chance for Irish
One of today's three championships brings about a rematch of a regular-season game, that one coming in Class A when Tug Valley takes on Charleston Catholic.
On Feb. 13, Tug routed Catholic 61-38 at the Civic Center, holding the Irish to 30 percent shooting, forcing 15 turnovers and limiting them to their lowest point total in three years.
Irish coach Bill McClanahan was not present for that game, one of three he was forced to miss because of obligations with his job as an IT manager.
Mikey Newsome tallied 23 points and Austin Brewer 18 (with eight rebounds) for the Panthers that night.
Charleston Catholic's Zach Casto is making the most of his chances.
The 6-foot-2 senior forward turned in his second straight double-double with 16 points and 15 rebounds to help the No. 3 and defending state champion Irish defeated No. 7 Wheeling Central 61-55 Friday morning in the Class A semifinals.