The Tug Valley Panthers are hotter than a two dollar pistol right now. They defeated Van last Friday night by 25 points to clinch the 2016 Class-A, Region 3, Section 1 Championship. It was a real barn burner.
Tug Valley is the only team remaining after the first week of March. Starting the last week of February, high school basketball tournament time kicked off in Kentucky and West Virginia. Heading into the first week I had girls and boys teams from Belfry, Tug Valley and Mingo Central to keep a watchful eye on, and only one remains.
The Belfry Pirates girls’ and boys’ team both lost in the semi-final round of Regionals after decent seasons. On balance, Belfry made a big leap forward this year in basketball. Everyone knows the school as the football powerhouse that just can’t lose. At the beginning of the season Coach Thompson remarked that he feels like the football coach from Kentucky, Mark Stoops. Thompson and the Pirates made great strides forward this season in developing a system that future teams will follow.
Senior Garrett Fannin had a remarkable year reaching 3rd on Belfry’s all-time scoring list, but Fannin wasn’t the only Pirate to achieve success this season. Austin Woolum fit into the point guard position like a glove. Cameron Catron and Cole Bentley had extremely productive junior seasons and a host of sophomores and freshman earned valuable minutes that will apply greatly in their future with the Pirates.
The Pirates doubled their wins from last season, during the 2014-2015 season they finished with a record of 6-20, during the 2015-2016 season they improves to 12-18. Belfry boys’ defeated Pike Central in the first round of the district tournament in a triple over time, two point victory. Towards the end of the season, Coach Thompson was forced to experiment with his younger bench players due to injury, the result looks promising. Avery Browning and Justin Barker saw good minutes in important games. This will come in handy further down the road for the Pirates.
The Lady Pirates started off the year with vague expectations considering the majority of the team are freshmen. Lyndsey Miller and Kailee Rash formed a double threat, from the wing, combining for 73 3-pointers this season. Defenses had a difficult time with the well-rounded team. Lena Hairston kept defenders on their heels with her speed and ball handling skills. The second a defense was drawn towards the middle the 3-point sisters, Miller and Rash, hit the wing looking for the open shot. Kylea Stanley, another freshman, handled the boards and finished the season with 294 rebounds, that averages out at nine rebounds a game.
The Lady Pirates finished the season with an over-all record of 12-14 and won the 60th District Championship over the Lawrence County Lady Bulldogs by a final score of 69-45. The girls’ season ended in the first round of 15th Regional play when they faced off against No. 6 in the region, Betsy Layne. The Lady Pirates lost to Betsy Layne by four points in the final game.
Belfry has a bright future ahead of them, especially the girls’ squad. The boys’ will be without Fannin and Keilan Carr next year, but will have a solid group of underclassman returning.
Mingo Central struggled this year in both the boys and girls programs. The boys’ team finished the regular season with a final record of 2-20. The season ended abruptly in the first round of sectional play as the Miners lost to the Wayne Pioneers 51-46. The Miners were under the direction of new Head Coach Garland Thompson who finished his first season with the Miners. Last season Thompson coached the Class-A Tug Valley Panthers to a state tournament appearance.
The Miners didn’t earn their first win until the first week of January when they defeated the Tolsia Rebels 46-38. The second win came later in the season when they defeated Wayne by a score of 63-53. The Miners had the game against Wayne, in the sectionals, but lost a 12 point lead during the second half and were eliminated from the tournament.
The bad news is that the Miners will be losing a huge portion of their starting rotation to graduation during the off-season. Guards, Dalton Hatfield, Deonte Joplin, Stephen Hammond, Kenny Allen, and Garrett Moore will all be lost after this season. Daniel Buchanon and Canaan Fletcher will both return next year as the Miners post players, the guard situation will be up for grabs.
Thompson has not announced whether or not he will return next season as the head coach, the safe assumption would be to say he will be returning.
The Lady Miners finished with a final record of 6-15. The Lady Miners were coached this season by interim coach Jack Stewart who filled in for Head Coach Clay Campbell who was forced to take medical leave after a series of health issues occurred.
The Lady Miners will lose senior Hannah Church this off season to graduation as well. Church finished the season earning a spot on the second team all-conference list. Church also made the second team last season as well.
“She is a great shooter and was the leader of our young team this year. She drew a lot of defensive attention from other teams which opened up the floor for the other less experienced players to really learn out system,” said Stewart.
The Lady Miners will have six players returning for their senior season. One of those players is Mikizia Rhodes, she has been a huge part of the Lady Miners success this season. The list of returning players suggests a more successful season next year.
The Tug Valley Lady Panthers met the same fate as other teams in the area by not making it past the opening round of the tournaments this season. The official record for the season was 5-16. The Lady Panthers were led in scoring by Emily Colegrove who returned for her sophomore season as the teams point guard.
Sophomore Rebekah White did well establishing dominance in the post, Madison Ooten established herself as the teams outside threat. The Lady Panthers will have five sophomores from this season eligible to return and may pick up a few more by next season. Kyria Messer will be the only senior lost to graduation this year.
Now that the dust has settled the Panthers remain the only team left standing. Tug Valley finished the regular season with a record of 16-3. The Panthers lost to George Washington (Class-AAA) and to Regional rival Saint Joseph Christian and then finally to Wesley Christian. The Panthers have been rolling through the post season tournaments with ease.
The first to hit the chopping black was Sherman who the Panthers defeated by a final score of 92-43. Tug Valley then beat Van for the Region 3, Section 1 Championship last Friday. Next up will be Midland Trail this Wednesday. The Panthers have held home court advantage through three games but a win against Midland Trail will send them to the Charleston Civic Center for the State Tournament.
The variable that makes the Panthers season so significant is the number of young players who hold key positions on the Panthers roster. A talented group of sophomores has been the Panthers motor all season. Ed May is doing well as the first year coach of the Panthers. May admitted later in the season that there was a learning curve that the players had to overcome. They had to get used to him and he had to get used to them.
No one can be certain in predicting the rest of the season for the Panthers, a bad game can spring on any player at any time. From my viewpoint I say that if at least three of the Panthers starting five are reaching average numbers any opponent will have a difficult time defending them. The Panthers strength is that they have a solid team through and through. An eight man rotation has worked well so far.
As the season continues there will be much more to say on the Panthers.
(William Plaster is the sports reporter for the Williamson Daily News, he can be reached at 304-235-4242 ext. 2274 or at [email protected] or on twitter @sidplaster)