CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There's something to be said for having been there and done that.When top-seeded Tug Valley was faced with a tense, tight third quarter in Friday afternoon's Class A semifinals, the Panthers roared past No. 4 Tucker County for a 54-41 win. A crowd of 7,181 attended the three-game morning session at the Charleston Civic Center.The Panthers (24-3) will take on No. 3 and defending champion Charleston Catholic (24-3) at noon today in the title game at the Civic Center. Tug is seeking back-to-back titles after winning it all in Class AA last year, then dropping to Class A when the 2012-13 school year began this past fall. The Panthers walloped the Fighting Irish by 23 points (61-38) in the Shootout at the Big House in mid-February at the Civic Center.Tucker (21-4) made its 12th straight trip to states but has yet to play for a state title since 2004.The Panthers only held a two-point lead (25-23) with 5:19 left in the third quarter, but just like clockwork they began feeling the urgency to put some distance between themselves and the Mountain Lions.Tug went on a 12-2 run to take a more comfortable 37-25 advantage with 2:51 remaining in the period. Panthers senior guard Mike Newsome punctuated the outburst with eight straight points on a layup, 3-pointer and three-point play on a layup and foul shot.Tucker closed within seven points (37-30) by the end of the third quarter, but Tug responded again by netting the first six points of the fourth to go ahead by double digits at 43-30. The Panthers stretched their advantage to 13 points before the Mountain Lions started cutting into it late in the final quarter, but by then it was too much to overcome.
"I don't know if we had our 'A' game, but I thought our kids scratched and dug it out,'' said Tug Valley coach Garland Thompson. "[Tucker County] fought tooth and nail, not wanting to give anything.''Tug responded in the second half by shooting 50 percent after an icy 36 percent in the opening half. Tucker, though, made just 31.6 percent of its shots after halftime. The Mountain Lions used 44.4 percent accuracy in the first half to only trail 23-20 at the break.Junior forward Thomas Baisden scored 18 points and landed six rebounds for Tug Valley while Newsome finished with 16 points. Panthers senior guard Aaron Muncy contributed eight points, five boards, three assists and five steals and senior guard Austin Brewer added six points, six caroms and four assists.The Mountain Lions committed twice as many turnovers as the Panthers (14-7), which Tug Valley turned into a 21-10 edge in points."We played the game we wanted to play,'' said Tucker coach Tom Gutshall, whose team held Tug to its second-lowest point total this season. "We took them out of what they wanted to do. I know one thing - they knew they were in a ballgame. We had a chance to be ahead in the first half. We just missed some shots.''Junior forward Ian Nichols turned in 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting with 14 rebounds for Tucker, but was the team's only player to score in double figures. Senior guard Tyler Snyder chipped in nine points, four boards, six assists and three steals.Tug is vying to become the first public school since Williamson in 2001 to win the Class A title. Thompson was an assistant coach for Williamson during its championship run.Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.