It's there for the taking
With traditional powers missing, AAA field is wide open
Monday March 11, 2002

By Rick Ryan

Circumstances could make the Class AAA field at this year's boys
state basketball tournament one of the most wide open ever.

There will certainly be a lot of new faces on hand when the first
ball gets tossed up Wednesday morning at the Civic Center.

Gone already are Woodrow Wilson, the five-time state champion in
the 1990s that didn't make it out of sectional tournament play, and
Capital, the two-time defending champion that lost its sectional

In fact, none of the teams that have appeared in the last five Class
AAA title games made the grade this time around. That may leave teams
that haven't been traditional powers in recent years, but it still
shapes up as a strong group nonetheless.

"The field might be one of the most competitive ever,'' said Parkersburg
South coach Joe Crislip. "You've got eight teams who are very capable.

All three teams that have spent time ranked No. 1 in the state in
Class AAA this season will be on hand - South Charleston, Martinsburg
and Cabell Midland.

The Black Eagles (21-3), whose only loss since Dec. 18 has been to
the nation's top-ranked team, Oak Hill Academy (Va.) in the Coal
Classic, enter as the slight favorite. They take on Parkersburg South
at 11:45 a.m. in Wednesday's quarterfinal round. But SC's resume
is no more impressive than the next two.

Martinsburg (21-4) is unbeaten in 18 games against West Virginia
teams - including wins of 28 points against Parkersburg South and
eight points at Morgantown, two other state tournament entries.

The Bulldogs have lost only to a pair of strong South Carolina teams
during the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach and twice to powerful
Chambersburg - one of the largest teams in Pennsylvania - each time
by a single point.

"This is the toughest schedule Martinsburg High has ever played in
basketball,'' said coach Dave Rogers. "We feel like we've prepared
in every way possible to get to this point in the schedule.''

Martinsburg squares off with Riverside at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday.

Cabell Midland (22-3) split with South Charleston and Spring Valley
- both top 10 teams in the final Associated Press poll - and dropped
an 87-80 decision at highly regarded Scott County, Ky.

The Knights also captured the championship of the competitive Mountain
State Athletic Conference, which produced both participants in last
year's Class AAA finals, Capital and George Washington. They meet
Greenbrier East at 11:45 a.m. in Thursday's quarterfinals.

Cabell Midland, like Martinsburg, appeared in last year's state tournament,
but suffered a first-round loss to eventual champ Capital. Still,
coach Jim Stewart thinks being there will account for something
this week.

"I think it does - a lot,'' he said. "Our kids play a lot of AAU
basketball and things like that. They play with a lot of other talented
kids. It's a matter of being able to relax this week and execute
your offense and play defense and get after everyone.

"Plus, I don't think we're going to see anyone near as quick as [Capital's]
L.B. Booker this time. Not many are.''

Two other teams rated near the top of the Class AAA poll are also
in town this week, No. 4 Morgantown (21-3) and No. 6 Parkersburg
South (17-7).

The Mohigans, who have never won a state title and made just two
previous state tournament appearances since 1993, were ranked first
in the MetroNews Power Index. They disposed of Fairmont Senior 75-
54 in the Region 3 finals, winning two of three against the Polar
Bears, who were the lone unbeaten team in Class AAA a few weeks ago.

The Patriots, meanwhile, have never won a game at the state basketball
tournament and are making just their fourth trip to the big show,
and their first since suffering a memorable overtime loss to Woodrow
Wilson in the 1999 quarterfinals.

South has won eight in a row and 13 of its last 15. The Patriots
are also road-tested, having played games in all four corners of
the state - Martinsburg, Princeton, Huntington (and Burch), and Wheeling
Park. They won all those games except the one at Martinsburg and
also played Ohio power Zanesville.

"We're independent,'' said Crislip. "If I want to play a good team,
I've got to travel. We played eight of our first nine on the road
with a young team - we've got a freshman and two sophomores among
our first six kids - plus we had some injuries early in the season.
I definitely think our schedule's made a difference.''

South runs into another hot team, No. 1 South Charleston, in the
quarterfinals. The Patriots may be kings of the road, but SC should
feel comfortable at the Civic Center, having played both its sectional
and regional title games there.

"That should help us with our shooting, as far as being acclimated
to it,'' said SC coach Bob Dawson, "although we didn't shoot well
against St. Albans [in the sectionals]. Hopefully, that will get
us a little bit of an edge, but once you throw it up and get started
and there's 13,000 people in the stands, you just don't know. I hope
we respond.''

The underdogs in the Class AAA field are No. 8 Robert C. Byrd (19-
5) and unranked Greenbrier East (18-6) and Riverside (15-10). RCB
plays Morgantown in Thursday's first round.

Riverside has never won a state tournament game, either, with good
reason. This is the Warriors' first trip ever. Coach Jim Fout credits
his team's difficult MSAC schedule for the honor.

"It's a very tough, very competitive schedule,'' Fout said. "Hopefully,
that will have us ready to play. One of the advantages of being
in a tough conference is having a tough schedule. Once you get to
the state tournament, you're pretty much battle-tested. Plus, we're
at the point where we're playing our best basketball. We did what
we had to do to win the last three weeks.''

The top-ranked teams in both Class AA (Tug Valley) and Class A (Oceana)
have both survived to this point and are rated as the odds-on favorites
to capture titles in their divisions.

The only loss this season for the Panthers (24-1) was a late-season
game with Oceana, while the Indians (21-3) are competing in the state
tourney for the final time ever before consolidating with Baileysville
to form Westside High School in Wyoming County.

Tug Valley meets up with No. 5 Poca (20-4) at 6 p.m. Wednesday in
the quarterfinals. The Dots began the season at the Civic Center
against the same foe, with the Panthers earning a 59-45 win in the
Charter Communications Hoops Classic.

To contact assistant sports editor Rick Ryan, use e-mail or call