NAUGATUCK – The Tug Valley Panthers will begin their quest for another state basketball championship as they play host to the Man Hillbillies tonight in the semi-finals of the Class A, Region 3, Section 2 tournament.
Tug Valley won the Class AA title last March at the Charleston Civic Center. The new enrollment figures had already been turned in at that time. Many knew that Tug Valley would drop back down to Class A this year – for the next four years.
When the school was first consolidated back in 1987, a combination of the old Kermit and Lenore High Schools, they were placed in Class AA. Over the years they have went back and forth between the two smallest classifications.
Regardless, many fans and sports writers think the Panthers have an excellent chance to repeat and win back to back championships.
Tug Valley returns three starters from last year’s squad in senior guards Austin Brewer, Mikey Newsome and Aaron Muncy. The other two starters are junior forward Thomas Baisden and senior center Corey Dillon. Sophomores Hayden Sturgell, Kyle Newsome, Aaron Copley and Austin Baisden provide bench strength for coach Garland “Rabbit” Thompson. Junior Ethan Hager gives the Panthers another low-post player off the pines.
Tug Valley finished the season as the No. 1 team in the Class A, Associated Press poll. The Panthers are ranked No. 18 in the Metro News Power index, which ranks all the teams together, regardless of class. They are the only Single A team in the top 20.
Thompson’s squad had played a tough schedule down the stretch of the regular season. They recently defeated Class AAA Logan and Huntington to wind up the regular season.
Their only losses came to Class AAA Belfry on the road, Westside on the road and to Greenbrier East on a last second shot in a game played at the Logan Fieldhouse.
The Panthers finished the regular season at 18-3. The Man Hillbillies come in with a record of 6-16 in the regular season. They defeated Montcalm in the play-in game of the tournament this past Saturday night. The Billies are coached by Harvey Arms.
If Tug Valley wins tonight, it could set up a rematch with Greater Beckley Christian on Friday night at the TVHS gym.
GBC is the No. 2 seed, while Tug Valley is the No. 1 seed in the section. The two teams split their regular season games. The Panthers won at home 74-61 back in January and nipped the Crusaders at the Beckley Armory a few days ago 61-60. GBC is scheduled to play Sherman tonight at home. Sherman beat Van on Saturday night to advance from the play-in game.