CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Defending Class AAA state champion Parkersburg returns to the state tournament wearing a larger target than last year, when they entered as a No. 3 seed.
This time, the Big Reds (23-1) are the No. 1 seed and have looked dominant outside of a loss to Class A No. 1 Saint Joseph Central.
Parkersburg will be in action against No. 8 Hampshire (9-15) at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday in a Class AAA quarterfinal at the Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center.
“A lot of work went into getting there and we know how hard it was last year getting there so the kids don’t take it lightly,” Big Reds coach Scott Cozzens said. “We’ve been practicing really well and I think we’re ready to go, but they know first hand the best team might not win.”
Parkersburg goes 12 deep, allowing it to consistently apply defensive pressure, which in turn lead to points off turnovers.
Hampshire will be looking to pull off a major upset after entering the postseason with six wins. The Trojans edged Spring Mills 48-47 in a Region II co-final after making eight 3-pointers.
“If you would have asked me at the beginning of the season, we probably wouldn’t have been predicted to be here,” Hampshire coach Julieanne Buckley said. “We have a very young team and we stuck together the entire season. We kept telling them as long as we’re where we need to be when playoffs and March roll around, that’s all you need to get to Charleston.
“Our last three games have been our best three games. We have nothing to lose. We’re the underdog, so we’re going in excited and ready to play.”
No. 2 Greenbrier East (22-3) faces No. 7 Huntington (15-10) at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday in the AAA opener.
The Spartans’ only losses this season against in-state teams came against St. Joseph Central and George Washington. Greenbrier East got revenge by defeating GW 61-51 in a Region III co-final.
The Highlanders will likely look to play more of a lower scoring game and thus far in three playoff contests, Huntington is allowing fewer than 36 points on average.
The other two Class AAA quarterfinals take place Thursday: No. 4 Wheeling Park (18-5) meets No. 5 South Charleston (20-5) at 11:15 a.m., before No. 3 University (20-5) faces No. 6 Martinsburg (18-5) at 7:15 p.m.
Wheeling Park began the season with six straight wins and brings a five-game win streak to Charleston, including a 44-35 victory over Morgantown in a Region I co-final.
“We don’t take this for granted that’s for sure,” Park coach Ryan Young said. “It’s pretty obvious they have very good guard play and they present a lot of challenges. It’s a pretty even matchup and it’ll come down to who plays better on Thursday.”
All five of Wheeling Park’s losses this season are against the three teams seeded ahead of the Patriots at the state tournament — two to Greenbrier East, two to University and one to Parkersburg.
Wheeling Park was also the No. 4 seed a year ago and reached the semifinals.
South Charleston started the season with nine consecutive victories and has won five straight down the stretch.
“We were really young last year and these kids came back strong,” Black Eagles coach Gary Greene said. “Athletics at South Charleston have been down a little bit this year and we’re representing not only the school, but the community, because the community has been behind this team all season.
“We have to play awful good defense. They have some really good guards and one of the best shooting guards in the state. Athletic ability wise, we matchup pretty good. We’ll have to contain their pressure a little bit and hope we play solid halfcourt defense.”
University had a 9-5 record in late January, before the Hawks began an 11-game win streak that’s ongoing. The Hawks have averaged 66 points in three playoff games, but offense could be tough to come by against stingy Martinsburg.
“You like to make baskets and scoring is a lot of fun, but the common denominator is that if we have to live off our defense we can,” University coach David Price said. “That’s something we can bring to the court every night.”
The same can be said for Martinsburg, which has held each playoff opponent to 37 or fewer points in getting back to the state tournament as a No. 6 seed for a second straight season.
“To be one of the last eight playing is what you work for every year,” Bulldogs coach Kyle Triggs said.
With four 20-plus win teams and seven squads with at least 15 victories in action at states, Parkersburg’s Cozzens expects high-level high school hoops throughout the week.
“I believe it’s one of the better brackets in a lot of years,” he said, “meaning that anybody can come out of it.”
CLASS AAA GIRLS STATE TOURNAMENT
Wednesday, March 6
Game 1: 11:15 a.m. – No. 2 Greenbrier East vs. No. 7 Huntington
Game 2: 7:15 p.m. – No. 1 Parkersburg vs. No. 8 Hampshire
Thursday, March 7
Game 3: 11:15 a.m. – No. 4 Wheeling Park vs. No. 5 South Charleston
Game 4: 7:15 p.m. – No. 3 University vs. No. 6 Martinsburg
Friday, March 8
5:30 p.m. – Game 2 winner vs. Game 3 winner
9 p.m. – Game 1 winner vs. Game 4 winner
Saturday, March 9
7:15 p.m. – Championship game