HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Nitro had battled to stay with No. 9 Huntington High in its Class AAA Region 4 co-final, and with slightly more than three minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats had cut the Highlanders' lead to 58-53 following two Angelo Sirianni foul shots.What followed was a layup by Huntington's Chancelor Wooding and then freshman Tavian Dunn-Martin stole the Nitro inbounds pass and quickly hit a 3-pointer to give the Highlanders a 10-point lead and effectively put the game out of reach.When the final buzzer sounded, Huntington (18-6) defeated the visiting Wildcats 70-63 to clinch its first trip to the Class AAA state tournament since 2008.Dunn-Martin finished with 14 points, 11 coming in the fourth quarter (including a 6-of-8 mark at the foul line to help pad the Highlanders' lead). Huntington coach Ron Hess said despite entering the fourth quarter just 1 of 9 from the field, he wanted his freshman to keep shooting.
"Any time Tavian is open and he's at the 3-point line, he's got the green light," Hess said. "He wasn't hitting a couple of shots early on and you see his head go down a little bit but I told him to just keep working and if you get the open shot, take the shot. He's a great shooter and he hit some big shots at the end and there was the freshman going to the foul line and making a lot of foul shots down the stretch for us."Nitro (11-14), which upset Winfield in the sectionals, led 11-8 after the first quarter and trailed by just two at halftime 23-21. A big reason for the Wildcats' success early in the game came from their plan to take the ball inside."The game plan going in was to drive the ball to the rim," Nitro coach Bryan Faber said. "We thought we could get it to the rim, we thought they would foul us. We wanted to drive it deep and kick it for 3-point attempts and early Angelo got to the rim just about any time he wanted."Turnovers became a problem for the Wildcats in the second half, however, and several times Nitro's pass attempts were intercepted and taken the other way for Huntington points, with the killer coming on Dunn-Martin's steal and 3-pointer in the fourth quarter."In the fourth quarter, the five-point play was a killer but these guys kept fighting," Faber said. "They fought for 32-minutes and they never gave up."
Sirianni finished with a game-high 24 points to lead Nitro and Ethan Clark and Tyler Burton each added 14 points.Huntington's Nick Tubbs drew the assignment of guarding the always-dangerous Sirianni and Hess said he was pleased with Tubbs' performance in slowing down what could have been an even bigger night for the Nitro standout."Sirianni is a great ball player. Our main focus, our key, was to try to slow him down," Hess said. "He's going to get his points, there's no way you're going to stop him, but I think we did a pretty good job. We kind of wore him down a little bit and his jump shot started to get a little short in the second half. Your point guard has to be able to slow down their point guard, especially when he's as good as Sirianni is. I think Nick did that. He made Sirianni take a lot of tough shots tonight and he had to work for his points, and that's what we wanted him to do."Tubbs finished with 13 points and was one of four Huntington players - along with Dunn-Martin, Arick Nicks (20) and Wooding (11) to score in double digits.As was the case for several girls Class AAA teams last week, the Highlanders must now wait to see where they are seeded in next week's state tournament. Three regional co-finals were postponed due to weather and will be played Thursday.Huntington's last trip to the state tournament was the last of four consecutive appearances at the Charleston Civic Center, with the Highlanders capturing state championships in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Patrick Patterson, who went on to play at the University of Kentucky and is now a member of the NBA's Sacramento Kings, was a member of all three Huntington championship teams and O.J. Mayo, who went on to the University of Southern California before making the jump to the NBA (where he was played for the Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks), was also on the 2007 Highlanders' squad.Reach Tom Bragg at email@example.com.