Tough times ahead for state teams

Morgantown opens with a morning game; Preston High draws top seed

BY JOSH STROPE The Dominion Post

    The Morgantown High Mohigans have prepared themselves all year for another chance at the state tournament. MHS coach Tom Yester scheduled tough early season opponents as a way to prepare his team for this very moment.
    Preston coach Barry Sanders has used his hard-nosed defensive scheme to stay close in games all year. The Knights’ 12-11 record doesn’t strike fear into the opposition, but getting behind against them early makes for a tough uphill climb.
    Both teams come from very different backgrounds, but they share a bond — both have advanced to the Class AAA state tournament in Charleston.
    In a new procedure this year, the teams have been seeded. Previously, state tourney matchups were determined by pairing regions.
    Morgantown (19-5) drew the No. 4 seed and will play No. 5 South Charleston (16-8) at 11 a.m. Wednesday. The Knights enter the tournament as the eighth seed and will get the first crack at No. 1 seed Huntington (21-2), at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday.
    The Mohigans weren’t disappointed with their seed, but rather their game time, perhaps more suited for brunch than basketball.
    “I wasn’t too pleased with that,” Yester said, “but hopefully we can bring a lot of kids down there to show us some support because South Charleston will be have a full crowd.”
    It’s Morgantown’s fourth consecutive trip to the state tournament. In 2004, MHS entered as the top-ranked team in the state, only to be upset by Huntington in the first round.
    “Of course we want another shot at them, but we might have the hottest team in the state in front of us and we have to make sure we give our complete attention to them,” Yester said.
    Morgantown and South Charleston have met already this season. On Dec. 27, the teams battled in the first round of the Coaches Against Cancer Holiday Classic. The Mohigans won, 82-74.
    A lot has changed since then. Most notably, MHS starter Migel Lockett quit the team. Lockett scored 25 points in the first meeting.
    South Charleston boasts two allstate players in Josh Daniel and Klint Frazier, and Yester knows his players will have their hands full. Daniel dropped 37 points in the previous meeting, and Frazier had 23.
    “We have a great deal of respect for this team,” Yester said. “What we need to do is get (Marlan) Robinson, (Chris) Carey, and someone else to step and up and try to take away their size.”
    While the Mohigans relish the chance to repay Huntington for the early exit in 2004, Preston is hoping to take out the Highlanders for them.
    “This is a very, very good team that starts quick and gets in your face,” Sanders said. “They’re a confident bunch and they have the right to be.”
    Unlike the Mohigans, the state tournament isn’t annual event for Preston. This is the Knights’ first trip to state since 1997.
    “The kids have to love the position they are in to play spoiler,” Sanders said. “I feel we should have been a little higher (seed), though.”
    Sanders backs his claim by pointing to seventh-seeded Buckhannon-Upshur, a team Preston defeated twice in the regular season.
    On paper, the Knights look completely overmatched. Huntington has size inside with player of the year nominee Patrick Patterson under the boards. Patterson, a 6-7 sophomore, leads the Highlanders with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks per game.
    “We are gonna have to be able to rebound, and then slow the game down,” Sanders said. “If we let them run, we don’t have a chance.”
    Sanders is stressing defense to his team over shooting. He is also hoping to surprise the Highlanders early and capitalize on their overconfidence.
    “Hustle and defense will be the keys to winning,” Sanders said, “the shooting will come naturally.”
Class AAA boys’ state tournament
Quarterfinals Wednesday
    No. 4 Morgantown vs. No. 5 South Charleston, 11:15 a.m.
    No. 1 Huntington vs. No. 8 Preston, 7:15 p.m. Thursday
    No. 3 Woodrow Wilson vs. No. 6 Jefferson, 11:15 a.m.
    No. 2 Capital vs. No. 7 Buckhannon-Upshur, 7:15 p.m. Semifinals Friday, March 18
    Morgantown or South Charleston vs. Huntington or Preston, 5:30 p.m.
    Woodrow Wilson or Jefferson vs. Capital or Buckhannon-Upshur, 9 p.m. Championship Saturday, March 19 Semifinal winners, 7:15 p.m.