CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Of the eight teams in this year’s Class A state tournament, seven are returning for at least a second straight year.
The only change is the No. 8 seed, which is occupied by Midland Trail (19-6) — and last year belonged to Charleston Catholic.
The reward for the Patriots is a matchup against top seed Saint Joseph Central (20-4) at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Irish are widely considered the best team in the state and hungry for a state championship after falling short against Wheeling Central in last year’s title game. That was the second time in three years Saint Joseph wasn’t crowned Class A champs after a streak of seven straight seasons winning titles.
“I thought there was a good chance we were going to get the eight seed. It’s going to be tough. I hated that we got that draw, but I’m sure there are a lot of other teams that would hate that draw also,” Midland Trail coach Matt Harper said. “We just have to go with it. You can’t look back and say, ‘Oh let’s just lay down.’ We just have to play our game and hope we can give them a run.”
Saint Joseph has battled injuries late in the regular season and into the postseason, but the Irish are 9-0 against state competition with wins over four of the top six seeds in the Class AAA state tournament as well as Class AA No. 2 Wyoming East. They’re also averaging 83 points in three playoff games.
“We have a talented bunch and (our schedule) really pushes them,” Saint Joseph coach Shannon Lewis said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to end the season with a state championship, but we’ve been tested and hopefully any scenario that comes up we’ll be ready for.
“We pressure the ball and we get after it. Our object is to turn you over and get easy buckets, but if not we have a nice group of kids that can score in the halfcourt also.”
In the first matchup of the tournament, No. 3 Magnolia and No. 6 Trinity clash at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in a meeting between teams with idential 17-8 records. The Blue Eagles defeated the Warriors 54-49 in the regular season.
Both teams lost in quarterfinal contests at the state tournament last season, and the Blue Eagles will try to use their superior size to their advantage after overcoming a five-game losing streak at the end of the regular season.
“Last year was kind of a celebration that we made it to the state tournament because it wasn’t expected at all,” Magnolia coach Meredith Pilant said. “This year coming in they knew what they wanted to do. They’re not going to settle for just being at the state tournament.”
Trinity is the only team this season to have beaten No. 2 seed Parkersburg Catholic (22-1), and Warriors’ coach Mike Baldy hopes a second matchup with the Blue Eagles will be advantageous to his team.
“We have our game-plan made up and we’re going to try to be us a little more than we were the last time,” Baldy said. “Last time, we started out in a junk defense and we really were worried about the two big girls and rightfully so, but we were able to shut them down for the most part early.
“But they had another girl step out and hit four 3s. The junk defense left that wide open. So this game this time will be more about trying to pressure the guards and turning them over.”
Also Wednesday: Parkersburg Catholic faces No. 7 Summers County (16-9) at 1 p.m.; and No. 4 Wheeling Central meets No. 5 Tucker County in the 9 p.m. nightcap.
The Lady Bobcats edged the Crusaderettes 69-67 at the 2018 state tournament, though this year’s Parkersburg Catholic team appears to be the biggest threat to Saint Joseph.
Part of what has enabled PC to get to Charleston with only one loss is the variety of styles the Crusaderettes can succeed playing.
“Our girls love to get up and down the floor,” Parkersburg Catholic coach Marty Vierheller said. “There’s no surprise there. But we also feel as though we don’t have to play a certain way to be successful and I think that’s part of what makes us special. We would certainly prefer an uptempo basketball game, but if the score is held down a little bit we’ve worked very hard to make ourselves proficient in the half-court at both ends of the floor.”
Summers County will try to spread the opposition out when attacking, but the Lady Bobcats have also been stellar on defense, allowing only 33 points per contest through three postseason games.
The Maroon Knights won last year’s state championship as a No. 2 seed, a run that included a 17-point win over the Mountain Lions in a semifinal.
Wheeling Central also won at Tucker County 67-56 in the regular season and enters states with six straight wins after having a 9-9 record one month ago.
The Mountain Lions have also won six straight games and will be playing in the state tournament for a 15th straight season.
“They’re a great team and very well-coached,” Tucker County coach Dave Helmick said. “We’re going to have to play a great game to beat them. It’s this time of year where you’re going to have to have your best game and if you don’t come to play it’s going to be a long night.”
CLASS A STATE TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
Wednesday, March 6
Game 1: No. 3 Magnolia vs. No. 6 Trinity, 9:30 a.m.
Game 2: No. 2 Parkersburg Catholic vs. No. 7 Summers County, 1 p.m.
Game 3: No. 1 St. Joseph Central vs. No. 8 Midland Trail, 5:30 p.m.
Game 4: No. 4 Wheeling Central vs. No. 5 Tucker County, 9 p.m.
Friday, March 8
Semifinal: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 9:30 a.m.
Semifinal: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 1:00 p.m.
Saturday, March 9
Class A girls basketball state championship, Noon