CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- South Charleston's depth and balance have kept its season afloat.When you look at SC's roster coming into the state tournament and project what the Black Eagles might have looked like, there's a great divide.At least four players who could have started - or been top subs - aren't there anymore:Last year's No. 2 scorer, sophomore guard Jon Elmore, a potential all-stater, transferred before the school year to Christ School in Arden, N.C.
Cai Carena, a 6-foot-4 junior, transferred to George Washington after the season started;Neal Brown, a season-long starter, and Kevin Williams, often first off the bench, were both booted from the squad just before the sectionals.
When you throw in other personnel issues (leading scorer A.D. Cunningham and current starter Trevond Reese have each missed two games and No. 2 scorer Hunter Moles missed one), it's amazing that the Black Eagles (23-2) have hardly missed a beat.Players like freshman Brandon Knapper, who led the team with 16 points in the regional win against Greenbrier East, freshman Kentre Grier, junior Tre Clark and senior Isaac Cosby have all played big roles down the stretch after getting little or no playing time during much of the regular season."Depth-wise, we knew we had that,'' said SC coach Vic Herbert. "Like I've said, some of our players were better than our starters - they just weren't as experienced. Now that some of those other guys are gone, they're getting experience and they're better."Brandon and Kentre and Clark and Cosby and those guys have helped us off the bench. Depth has not been a big problem. Our depth has bailed us out. We've had to go with other guys.''On top of all that, season-long starting guard Devyn Harris was hampered by a virus for the regional and could only play about 10 minutes. Cunningham, who sat out the regional with a knee injury, is expected back for Thursday's game against Morgantown.Putnam palsThe largest cheering sections for the first day of the state tournament might involve a pair of Putnam County schools.Buffalo and Hurricane play back-to-back games this morning, with the Bison meeting Charleston Catholic at 9:30 and the Redskins taking on Woodrow Wilson at about 11:15.Apparently, the two schools have formed an alliance of sorts. You root for us, and we'll stick around and root for you.
"I think we're going to have that going for us,'' Buffalo coach Chuck Elkins said. "Hurricane plays right behind us, and our kids at school have been talking to the kids at Hurricane. So we might have a pretty good-sized crowd.''Elkins said there probably won't be too many unattached fans roaming through the Civic Center early in the day, as three-quarters of the teams involved in the first two games are Kanawha Valley residents."I know we saved [the SSAC] a bunch of money for our game,'' said Elkins, noting that hotel rooms were unnecessary for the Buffalo and Catholic squads.Cardinal rule?Two more Cardinal Conference teams crashed the party for the Class AA tournament this week, making it nine straight years the league has sent at least one representative to the state tourney.Cardinal teams, known more often for football success, have held their own in that stretch of state tourneys, too, going 13-12 overall and making the finals three times.
Tolsia (17-8), the No. 5 seed and Scott (15-10), the No. 7 seed, have survived an entire season in a defensive-minded league. Three Cardinal teams allowed 46 points or less per game, and Tolsia (50.8) wasn't far behind.Cardinal teams have learned to play at all speeds, with the Rebels winning with scores in the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s this season, and the Skyhawks in the 30s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s."Our league is a really good defensive league,'' said Poca coach Allen Osborne. "It's a good league. Our two teams will represent our conference well. I'd like to see them play in the championship game, to be honest with you.''Approach the benchFor some teams, the benches grow shorter the deeper you go into the season.For its final regular-season game, Charleston Catholic nearly went with an iron five lineup the entire way. Reserves Nelson McKown and Andy Hoyer, though, each saw a sliver of playing time in the final moments."I think our bench is ready to play their roles come tournament time,'' said Irish coach Bill McClanahan. "They understand what their roles are. They know to do the best they can for the time they're out there."The five on the court are going to get the most of the minutes, but this time of year most teams are going to do that.''Thanks for the memoriesThis week's state tournament experience will likely mean a bit more to Hurricane's players and coaches, since it's their first trip in boys basketball.Coach Lance Sutherland has taken a lot of glad-handing in the last week from fans in and around Putnam County, but deflects the praise to his players."You can't tell what it means to the community,'' Sutherland said. "I had a guy come up and shake my hand before the [regional] game and say, 'Thank you. The community thanks you for what you've done.'"Hey, it's not what I've done. It's what those 15 players did. It has nothing to do with me. It's all them and what they did.''Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.