CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The fun and games are over.Well, the contests are still plentiful as the sectional tournaments begin in earnest around the state this week - a few started Friday and Saturday - but only sharp focus and crisp execution will do now with finality in the air.George Washington was hoping to get a boost from playing for its third Mountain State Athletic Conference championship in four years during Saturday's Night of Champions at the South Charleston Community Center, but came up short again, falling 72-51 to Huntington.Now GW must shift gears on the fly and put that disappointment behind it in a hurry as the postseason looms on the horizon."Our kids are pretty resilient,'' said Patriots coach Jamie LaMaster. "My kids have a tendency to bounce back pretty strong. This was a great experience, we won the East [Division] and that's all great, but now we need to move our mindset to sectional play."For us, that's the beginning of state tournament play. Starting next week it's win or go home. After Monday, there'll be a lot of teams not playing basketball. We don't want to be one of those teams. I think they'll respond.''The Patriots (14-8), who were eighth in last week's Class AAA Associated Press poll, have been ranked all season. After up-and-down play (6-4 record) through the first 10 games, GW reeled off six straight wins and eight victories in its last 12 games against the likes of state-ranked Preston, Parkersburg South (twice), Greenbrier East (No. 1 and undefeated), Princeton and Huntington."This has been a pretty tough stretch at the end,'' said LaMaster. "The tougher schedule is going to get you ready. That can go one of two ways."You can beat [your players] down getting ready, but I think in our case with the experience and where we've been the last few years, it'll help us and get us ready.''LaMaster's bunch has nearly seen it all the past two seasons as they've advanced to the state tournament semifinals.
"These kids have been there and know what it's going to take,'' he said. "We just have to pick it up. You've got to make better decisions. We've had success the last two years in sectional and regional play and we'll lean on that a little bit.''GW will host the Ripley-Riverside winner Wednesday in AAA Region 3 Section 1, and owns 48- and 26-point victories, respectively, over both possible foes. Also Wednesday, South Charleston visits Capital with each team splitting the two games during the year.Here's a capsule look at the other sectional tournaments this week involving Kanawha Valley teams:Class AAA Region 4 Section 1 (Hurricane, Nitro, Point Pleasant, St. Albans, Winfield): The Red Dragons (12-10) closed the season with a three-game winning streak and have beaten the other teams in the section.
SA hosts Nitro on Wednesday in what is always a hotly contested cross-river rivalry. The Red Dragons won by four points in their only meeting Jan. 19. Winfield will host the Hurricane-Point winner also Wednesday, and bested the Redskins twice (52-36 and 53-50) but didn't face the Black Knights. Hurricane visits Point today and each team won handily on their home court in the home-and-home series.
Class AA Region 4 Section 1 (Clay County, Herbert Hoover, Nicholas County, Poca, Sissonville): This grouping is one of the toughest in the state, with Clay, Nicholas and Sissonville all ranked in the top 10. Hoover (12-10) is also no pushover, having wrapped up its first winning season since 1996. Poca hasn't been the same since losing Madi McGrew to a knee injury.
Hoover visits Poca today owning 15- and five-point wins over the Dots. Clay and Sissonville square off Wednesday with each one winning on its home court this year. Nicholas will take on the Hoover-Poca winner also Wednesday without having faced either one.Class A Region 4 Section 2 (Buffalo, Charleston Catholic, Hannan, St. Joseph, Wahama): St. Joseph, the four-time defending state champion, has been rarely tested this year with only one loss to a team from Tennessee. Buffalo hasn't lost since early January, taking 13 straight. Catholic is having a down year since losing three starters to knee injuries, but has been competitive against top-tier opponents.
Buffalo visits Catholic on Wednesday as the Bison return to the scene of its last loss (Jan. 4, 49-43). The Hannan-Wahama winner from today visits St. Joseph on Wednesday for what figures to be a quick tune-up for the four-time champs.Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org