CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Man coach T.J. Blevins noticed a difference in his team ahead of Thursday’s Class A semifinal against No. 4 Webster County compared to what the top seed Hillbillies looked like before Tuesday’s quarterfinal.
“On Tuesday, we’re in the locker room and we were as white as this wall,” Blevins said. “Tonight, we were bouncing off the walls and I knew it was going to be on.”
Less than two hours later, Man had secured a spot in the Class A title game by rolling to an 81-54 victory over the Highlanders — the most recent Class A champion in 2019.
“I didn’t care if we won by one,” Blevins said. “We’re in the state championship and these guys are on cloud nine as well.”
The Hillbillies (15-2) could do no wrong offensively and much of it was because of the play of point guard Peyton Adams and wing Caleb Blevins.
The duo combined for Man’s first 12 points and 15 of its 19 in the opening quarter, with Blevins making a trio of three-pointers and Adams connecting twice from beyond the arc in the opening quarter.
Blevins never slowed down, hitting two more threes in the first 3 minutes of the second quarter and finishing the opening half 5 of 6 beyond the arc.
“I felt it in warm-ups,” he said. “I came out, executed and my teammates had my back and I got going. It always boosts the confidence when you hit one right off the bat. You keep going and get the feel for it.”
Adams also hit a pair of second-quarter triples and was 4 of 5 from deep through two quarters.
“You could feel the energy,” Adams said. “I’d put my money on (Caleb) that he’s the best shooter in the state.”
On the strength of the nine first-half threes and 16-of-24 shooting overall, Man took a 42-26 lead into halftime. Jeremiah Harless and Austin Ball had five assists apiece at the break for MHS.
“It’s a tough matchup for us size wise and other than the size, they spread you out and they shoot the ball well,” Highlanders’ coach Michael Gray said.
The Highlanders (12-7) got to within 11 in the third quarter on a Riley Clevenger follow-up at the 2:19 mark, but Blevins’ sixth triple capped the scoring in the frame and sent Man into the fourth leading 55-40.
“Coming out of halftime, we had another game plan for them and we outscored them in the third period,” Gray said. “But it got away from us at the end.”
Blevins hit two more triples in the fourth to finish with eight — tying the single-game state tournament record dating back to 2006.
The Hillbillies shot 61 percent (30 of 49) for the game. Man’s 6-foot-7 junior Austin Ball had 18 of his game-high 25 points in the second half, including a pair of fourth-quarter dunks. Ball also had seven rebounds and seven assists.
“He is what he is,” coach Blevins said. “And he’s special.”
Blevins scored 24, Adams added 18 and Jackson Tackett made all four of his field-goal attempts while scoring 11 in the victory.
MHS had 25 assists and only eight turnovers.
“We’re taking care of the ball and when you take care of the ball, usually that means you’re scoring,” coach Blevins said.
Man will face Pendleton County in the Class A final. Both teams will be pursuing their first state championship, with the Hillbillies playing in a final for the first time since 1990, when they lost to Wheeling Central in the Class AA title game.
Webster shot a respectable 44 percent in defeat, including 7 of 19 on threes.
Rye Gadd led the Highlanders with 15 points and seven rebounds. Kaden Cutlip scored 14 in the loss.
“It didn’t end how we planned,” Gadd said, “but we just kept playing.”