NAUGATUCK, W.Va. — The road to Charleston is still open for the Tug Valley High School boys’ basketball team.
However, the last leg in the Panthers’ possible trip to the state tournament won’t be going through Naugatuck.
It will have to go through Ravenswood.
Huntington St. Joe, coached by Logan High School graduate and former Wildcat player Ross Scaggs, made the trek to Tug Valley on Friday night and defeated the Panthers 66-61 to claim the Class A Region 4 Section 2 title before a half empty crowd at the TVHS gym in Naugatuck.
The win was no stroke of luck by the Irish.
Led by all-state candidate Deaundre Murphy’s 30 points, St. Joe led almost the entire game. Murphy, a 6-foot-3 senior guard, who averages 18.2 points per contest, got the game started with an exclamation point as he rocked the rim with a two-handed slam dunk for the first bucket of the night.
Although the Panthers hung around and kept it close Tug was playing catch-up pretty much the rest of the night.
With the win, St. Joe avenged a pair of losses during the regular season to Tug Valley, proving the ages old sports cliche that it’s hard to beat the same team three times during the same season. The Panthers had prevailed over the Irish 55-52 on Jan. 31 on the road and 80-62 on Feb. 10 at home.
This time would be different.
Tug Valley (14-10) will still have a chance to reach the Class A state tournament, but the job will be much tougher now as the Panthers will now have to travel to play this coming Thursday night at Ravenswood (21-2) in the Class A Region 4 co-championship game.
Huntington St. Joe (15-9) is slated to host Parkersburg Catholic (16-8) this Thursday in the other co-final in a game set to be played at Cabell Midland High School.
Ravenswood won its sectional title on Friday night by topping Parkersburg Catholic 54-48.
Tug Valley will have a rematch with the Red Devils. The two teams met earlier in the season at Logan High School’s King Coal Classic as Ravenswood came away with a 53-48 win on Jan. 27 at Willie Akers Arena.
Huntington St. Joe, the defending Class A state champs, came into the game and the season as the underdogs.
With a somewhat depleted roster when compared to last year, the Irish are now just one win away from punching their ticket to the state tournament and having a chance to defend its state crown.
“We came ready to play tonight,” Scaggs said after the game at a darkening TVHS gym. “We thought that was the key for us, to be ready. We had to do it on the road and this is a tough place to play. They are very very good and have a great tradition. We knew that we had to get out early and not fall behind. We were able to do that and we made a little space. They came back. It was just a good ballgame with two good teams.”
Scaggs said beating a team three times in the same season is tough.
“It is but they were the number one seed and they earned it,” he said. “To get there we knew that we were going to have to get through here. I’m just very very proud of our team. They came out and executed our game plan. We were tough on the boards and I thought we matched their physicality. We made our foul shots at the end when we needed to.”
John Morrison added 16 points for St. Joe, while Issac Bias tossed in 14. Garrick Hopkins added five points.
Colby Savage led Tug Valley with 18 points. Garrett Brown netted five 3-pointers and had 17 points. Levi Davis had 10, Mason Layne eight, Jonathan Blankenship four and Tyler May and Bryson Preece tallied two each.
The Irish were an impressive 18-of-22 from the free throw line for 81.8 percent. Tug Valley was just 1-of-4 for 25 percent.
St. Joe led Tug Valley 19-10 after one quarter, 34-30 at the half and 49-46 after three, then had to hold on to grab the win.
Tug Valley had just cut the lead to 51-50 with 6:35 left after a Savage bucket inside the lane but then went on top 55-54 with 5:21 to go with a 3 by Savage.
It would prove to be the last lead of the night by the Panthers.
After a layup by Hopkins and two Murphy free throws it was 58-57 Irish.
Tug then had a chance to tie the game as Davis scored and was fouled. He missed the chance at a three-point play as his free throw was no good.
Davis later got Tug Valley within 60-59 with a reverse lay-in with 1:42 left.
St. Joe then hit a pair of free throws to go up 62-59.
The Panthers tried to tie the game up with a corner 3 with 22 ticks to go but the shot clanged off the rim.
Bias then hit two fouls shots with 17 seconds left to make it 64-59.
Tug Valley got a putback with seven seconds remaining to stay in it at 64-61 but Murphy was then fouled with 5.9 ticks left and sealed the win as he netted both free throws.
“He had 19 points in the first half,” said assistant coach Tyler Hodge after the game when asked about Murphy’s performance. “I never really thought that we had control of the tempo that we wanted to have. They slowed the tempo some.”
Brown gave Tug Valley a spark, hitting four of his five 3-pointers in the second quarter.
“I thought Garrett played well,” said Hodge, standing in for head coach Edwyn May in the post-game interview. “We told these kids all year that they have to be ready to play each night. If we had all five of them playing like Garrett we would have been pretty good.”
St. Joe led by as many as eight in the first quarter with a 10-2 lead.
The Irish lead swelled to 22-10 with a Murphy 3 at the 7:22 mark of the second period.
Brown helped the Panthers keep chipping away with his four second-quarter treys. His third — an NBA range 25-footer seemingly heaved all the way from downtown Lenore — trimmed it to 27-23. His fourth 3 cut it to 27-26, forcing the Irish to call timeout with 3:49 remaining until halftime.
Tug Valley then took its first lead of the night at 30-29 with Layne’s layup at the 2:10 mark.
Murphy then gave St. Joe a 34-30 lead as he made two three throws with 1:56 left and then canned a 3 with four ticks remaining until the intermission.
Scaggs said Parkersburg Catholic will be no pushover in the regional title game. The two teams did not meet during the regular season.
“We will probably play at Cabell Midland because we are not eligible to host a regional game at our own gym because of the gym’s size,” Scaggs said. “We do get to stay home but that’s no guarantee either. In the tournament you have to keep going up, up and up and play better every game.”
Hodge said beating Ravenswood on its home floor will be a challenge.
“We played them at Logan this year,” he said. “They beat us by five points. They are a good team and they are well coached. It’s going to be tough and it’s going to be a tough atmosphere. It’s a tough environment to go and play in, especially for a regional championship. The last time we went on the road for a regional championship the outcome was not really good, so we are hoping the third time is a charm. We’re hoping that we can turn things around but we’re fortunate to have one more shot.”
Following Friday night’s game, a ladder was placed under one of the two baskets for the ceremonial cutting of the nets.
Since St. Joe won they would be taking down the nets and taking them home to Huntington, possibly for the school’s trophy case.
The Irish, however, declined to take them in a show of respect.
“They didn’t want them (the nets). I’m kind of glad. That way I won’t have to put some new ones up tomorrow,” Hodge quipped.
Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @PAdkinsBanner.