CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Four months after narrowly losing their football state championship game, the kids at Huntington High haven’t forgotten.
Especially not the ones now pursuing a basketball title.
They’re hoping this weekend makes up for that painful near-miss in December, and the Highlanders will get their chance Saturday night after upsetting No. 1 seed Washington in the semifinals.
CLASS A: Wheeling Central def. Charleston Catholic 64-55 (2 OT)
CLASS AA: Bluefield def. Robert C. Byrd 64-39
CLASS AAA: Huntington (22-4) vs. Hurricane (21-6), 7:15 p.m.
“I’m taking the anger that I have from football and taking it to the basketball court,” said Huntington center Arick Nicks. “I took that football loss to heart.”
The 6-foot-5 Nicks said that 9-7 gridiron heartbreaker against Martinsburg left a brutal aftermath: “It was a bad vibe all the way home, a long ride home. I just remember seeing all the tears falling from the seniors.”
Fellow senior Nick Tubbs, has gone from all-state defensive back to the basketball team’s defensive stopper. He figures to draw another tough assignment when the fifth-seeded Highlanders face No. 7 Hurricane.
“Me and Aaric, we know how it feels to lose a state championship,” Tubbs said. “We don’t want to have that feeling again.”
Huntington edged Hurricane 50-48 on Feb. 14.
“They have very good shooters and we know that,” said Highlanders coach Ronald Hess.
Though Bluefield (24-2) is the defending state champion and has won 17 straight games, the Beavers will be an underdog against unbeaten Robert C. Byrd (24-0).
“At one point this season we were 7-2, but since then each week we’ve gotten better,” said Bluefield coach Buster Large, who added that his team’s primary goal was to return to the final. “We’re just so happy to have that 12 o’clock date (on Saturday).”
Byrd’s 78-73 semifinal win over Westside was only the third time all season an opponent hung within single-digits of the Eagles.
Top-seeded Wheeling Central (24-3) and No. 3 Charleston Catholic (21-6) square off in matchup of programs that have combined for 10 state banners since 2000.
“We’re very familiar with them,” said Wheeling Central coach Mel Stephens, whose Maroon Knights have won 15 straight games, including a 64-52 decision over Charleston Catholic on Jan. 31. “It seems like every year we come down here we run into them somewhere along the line.”
The Irish are aiming to give coach Bill McClanahan a championship sendoff. He has been at the helm for nine trips to the finals, including titles in 2000, 2006, 2007 and 2012
“I’m sure they’re going to be pumped with it being Coach McClanahan’s last game, and I wish him the best, because he’s done a fantastic job down here with those guys. But we’re going to come out and try to spoil his party and win the championship.”
Wheeling Central four-peated from 2002-05 along with winning back-to-back crowns in 2008-09.