CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's been a different kind of season for Tug Valley, but so far the results have been the same.The Panthers, who captured the Class AA state championship last year, dropped down to Class A this past fall and won't get a chance to defend their title.As the top seed in Class A, though, Tug Valley (22-3) will have an opportunity to start a new tradition when it takes on No. 8 Notre Dame (14-8) in the quarterfinals of the state tournament at 5:30 p.m. today at the Charleston Civic Center."We've talked about it,'' said Tug coach Garland Thompson. "We want to go back to back. That's something that only a handful of teams have ever done. This being the 100th year of [the state tournament], I can't think of nothing better for our kids.''Tug enters states on a 12-game winning streak, which includes victories over several teams in the state tournament field.The Panthers have beaten Class A No. 3 Charleston Catholic (61-38 at the Civic Center last month), No. 6 Greater Beckley Christian thrice (74-61, 61-60 and 72-47) and AAA No. 9 Huntington (69-55) while splitting with Class AA No. 3 Westside.Mikey Newsome, a 5-foot-11 senior guard, triggers the Panthers offense at 17.9 points per game, followed by 6-1 senior guard Austin Brewer (15.3) and 6-2 junior forward Thomas Baisden (12.7). Aaron Muncy, a 5-10 senior guard, adds 7.1 points per game."In the tournament, it's survive and advance,'' Thompson said. "I think we're playing pretty good so far. You never know what's going to happen in the tournament. You see kids get stage fright with the bright lights in their eyes."I've been here. It doesn't matter whether I've been there or not, it's up to our kids now. What we try to do is create turnovers with our defense and if we can do that, we'll be OK. Our kids are familiar with the floor and the surroundings. That helps.''
Notre Dame had a mostly up-and-down season until the middle of the year, when it won 10 of its last 13 games. The Fighting Irish lost their sectional title game but went on the road and won in the regional co-final at Moorefield to advance to Charleston.Cal Cistaro, a 6-4 junior forward, leads Notre Dame with 19 points and 11 rebounds per game while 5-8 junior guard Justin Goff averages 13 points, three assists and three steals and 5-8 junior guard Kolby Abruzzino contributes 12 points and three steals per contest. Drew Ridgway, a 6-4 senior forward, chips in 8 points, four rebounds and four assists."You start with their coach Jarrod West, who played at West Virginia,'' said Thompson. "He's played at the highest level of basketball there is. They've got two 6-foot-4 guys that can step out and hit the 3."They wouldn't be here without earning the right. It's not out of the realm that they can't beat us. I worry if they go zone a little bit on us and how we react and if we struggle shooting the basketball. We'll try to do what we do and that's press, man-to-man and speed them up a little bit and get some turnovers.''Thompson said participating in the 100th boys tournament carries extra meaning."I was an assistant with Williamson when Curt [Fletcher] won it all in 2001,'' said the Tug coach. "It is a big deal. It's the time of year everybody goes to Charleston. The state tournament in West Virginia is like miner's vacation.
"They'll be plenty of people from Mingo County. Go in and soak it up. Play as hard as you can and hopefully you'll get a deflection, somebody kicks [the ball] out of bounds and you get a break.''Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.