Bruce McKean: How do the Warriors stack up in their fourth trip to Charleston?
Dunmore, West Virginia – PCHS: 1987, 1993, 2009 and 2012 plus state championship games: Green Bank HS – 1951 and Marlinton HS – 1968
The #8 seed Pocahontas County Boys Basketball Team (14-11) heads to Charleston on Thursday to face the #1 seed St. Marys Blue Devils (23-1) of St. Marys, WV (Pleasants County) at 5:30 PM at the Charleston Civic Center. The #4 seed PCHS Lady Warriors’ two-point loss 36-38 to the #5 seed Trinity Christian Lady Warriors of Morgantown last Thursday night was one of the two closest games (two-point margins) in Class A. Only the 48-47 upset of Class AAA #2 seed South Charleston by #7 seed George Washington at the girls tournament was a closer finish of the 12 opening round girls games, and that game was a first victory for a #7 seed. The #3 seed Williamstown 84-82 win over #6 seed Tucker County was the other two-point loss in Class A. Tucker led that game until the very end, and PCHS led most of the second half.
The headline in today’s Charleston Gazette boys state tournament article by sports editor Rick Ryan says it all: “No sure things as boys tourney tips off”. Ryan points out that although the Class AA and A fields are more top-heavy than Class AAA which is “as capable from top to bottom as it’s ever been”, “it’s difficult to project exactly which teams will be lugging home the hardware on championship Saturday.” Derek Taylor of the Charleston Daily Mail picks Wheeling Park, Tug Valley and St. Marys to win the boys tourney this year, but maybe since Taylor used to work in Parkersburg, he is more impressed with St. Marys, a school located right up the Ohio River from Parkersburg. Taylor picks St. Marys over PCHS due to four Blue Devils averaging in double figures. It turns out that the Warriors have three players in double figures, and Dillon Kelley’s 18.1 points per game beats St. Mary’s top scorer K. D. Arnett’s 17.4 points per game. If you average the four top scorers from the two teams, St. Mary’s averages just 1.0 point higher per top-four scorer, 13.9 to 12.9. Senior Jesse Taylor will be greatly missed from the PCHS lineup Thursday, and he averages second in steals, third in blocks, fourth in rebounds and fifth in scoring, assists and free throw %.
Both PCHS and SMHS have strong senior leadership. PCHS went with an all-senior starting lineup all season, and four of St. Marys’ top scorers are seniors. PCHS will dress twelve players on Thursday: seven seniors, one junior, one sophomore and three freshman, and the Blue Devils dress ten boys: seven seniors also, two juniors, and one sophomore. PCHS starts three 6’0″ seniors: Jed Sheets 3.9 apg and 14.9 ppg, Skylar Knisely 7.8 ppg, 57%FG-2s and Dillon Kelly 18.1 ppg, 77%FT, and St. Marys starts two 6’1″ seniors K.D. Arnett 17.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg and Garrett Wichterman 10.0 ppg. SMHS 5’9″ senior Derek Renner tallies 4.5 apg, 17.1 ppg, and PCHS senior Steven Halterman averages 10.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg and 2.4 spg. SMHS 5’7″ junior Andrew Cosper comes in with 11.2 ppg and 2.9 apg.
St. Marys is coached by Mark Barnhart. PCHS Coach Bob Sheets is retiring after 30 years of coaching, 393 wins for his career and leading PCHS to four state tournaments in 1987, 1993, 2009 and 2012 plus nine regional finals. PCHS assistant coach is a former Bob Sheets player Scott Garber (1994 grad). PCHS lost at this year’s #4 seed Midland Trail in the Region 3 Section 1 championship 49-71, but in one of the two regional finals beat Fayetteville 44-35 to advance to states. The #7 seed Man Hillbillies (14-11) of Logan County and #8 seed PCHS (14-11) are the only two unranked teams to make it in Class A in 2012.
St. Marys has been to Charleston six times in school history, and they have a 6-6 win-loss record at states and were runners-up 24 years ago in 1988, losing in Class AA by 44-68 to Williamson. Rick Ryan of the Gazette reports that “the Blue Devils aren’t used to playing the kind of close games you might see at state tournament time. Only four of their games (have) been decided by 10 points or less. Madonna, meanwhile, has played 12 such games.” Madonna is the #3 seed.
Last year #1 seed Trinity lost to #2 seed Weirton Madonna 42-44 in the 2011 state championship game, and this year’s #6 seed Trinity (17-7) meets #3 seed Madonna (22-3) in the opening quarter-final round on Thursday. That 2011 state championship was Madonna’s first ever in three appearances and with a 5-2 win-loss record at states. #4 seed Tucker County (19-6) has a 5-0 record against public schools at states since 2004, so they are favored to beat #4 seed Midland Trail (21-4) in their 9 PM game Thursday. #7 Man (14-11) and #2 seed Charleston Catholic meet at 1 PM Thursday. Man has the high scorer in Class A with senior 6’1″ guard scoring 25.6 ppg and was Class AA state runners-up in 1990 to Wheeling Central 68-94, but Catholic has three state championships and four runners-up trophies (last in 2010). Catholic has an 18-7 record in games at states in ten appearances. Tucker has 16 appearances with an 11-16 record and has finished runners-up twice, the last time in 2004 losing to Wheeling Central 73-67.
Height is always a factor and the tallest players who are top-three scorers on their teams are: Catholic’s sophomore 6’4″ Nick George – 13.7 ppg, Madonna’s two seniors 6’4″ Clay Rokisky – 18 ppg and 6’6″ Drazen Frankovich – 15 ppg, Midland Trail’s senior 6’2″ Casey Kessler – 19 ppg, and Trinity’s juniors 6’5″ Cody Triplett – 23.8 ppg and 6’4″ Anthony Ghlardi – 14.8 ppg.
Local fans may remember Green Bank losing to Fairview in the Class B (small schools) state championship in 1951 while Beckley beat Charleston 62-54 that same year in Class A (large schools). Marlinton was also state runners-up in 1968 in current Class A losing to Barracksville 58-68 while Charleston beat Beckley that year in Class AAA 78-64 and Ceredo-Kenova beat Pineville 66-44 in Class AA. So we do have a history of being in state basketball championships in Pocahontas County!
I think the secret weapon for PCHS is their three-point shooting. PCHS hits an average of nine threes per game, and that is the highest of any team in all West Virginia classes with stats on MaxPreps.com. The closest team at states that is also on MaxPreps is Class AAA #8 Logan who averages 6.3 threes per game. Two PCHS players, Jed Sheets and Skylar Knisely were freshmen and on the team in the 2009 (42-63) loss at states to Charleston Catholic. Catholic lost in the state championship 43-49 to Wheeling Central in 2009. Catholic lost close games in the state championship in 2010 and 2008 also and won it all in 2007 and 2006, so they have the definite experience advantage.
Rick Ryan of the Gazette pointed out in a recent article that “Since the coaches’ seeding process was adopted in 2005, top seeds are 21-0 in the state tournament with an average winning margin of 26 points.” Just as a #7 seed upset a #3 seed for the first time in the girls tournament last week, the entire community hopes that the Warriors can be the first #8 seed to upset a #1 seed since proper seeding started in 2005. Ryan went on to point out that Class A #8 seeds have come much closer to #1 seeds, on average 68-44, so there is hope for PCHS. Congratulations to the Warriors and their coaches on a strong finish to a season that saw seven early losses by less than ten points.