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Boys notebook: Big night in the MSAC

Chip Ellis
Winfield and leading scorer Bear Bellomy (right, shooting against Wheeling Park earlier this season) open MSAC divisional play tonight at Class AAA No. 2 Huntington.
Rick Ryan
Buffalo coach Chuck Elkins saw his team get the South's No. 2 seed for the upcoming HIT event.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Today's the day the games start for real in the Mountain State Athletic Conference.For the first time since the MSAC adopted its current format in the 2002-03 season, the divisional games - which determine the teams that advance to the league's Night of Champions - all begin on the same day.So call it opening night, if you will, across the league.The top boys games on tonight's card find Hurricane (8-2) at South Charleston (8-1), Winfield (5-3) at Huntington (7-0) and Riverside (4-2) at Capital (5-1).Other divisional openers pit Princeton (4-6) at George Washington (6-2), Woodrow Wilson (5-2) at Parkersburg (3-6), Spring Valley (4-3) at St. Albans (2-5) and Nitro (0-8) at Cabell Midland (2-6).The only MSAC team not scheduled to play a divisional game tonight is Ripley (2-8), as the East has just seven teams to the West's eight.Previously, the conference sprinkled its divisional games throughout the season, or wherever teams could find room on their schedule.Not this season, which is the last under the current format, since schools complained that the cross-division games had little or no bearing in the standings. They were used in rare tie-breaker occasions, usually when two or more teams tied for one spot. Next season, all games against league opponents will count in determining top teams in the two divisions.East teams are scheduled to play six divisional games over the next month, and the West seven. Schools that finish with the best record in their respective divisions tangle in the title game of the MSAC Night of Champions, set for 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 22, again at the South Charleston Community Center.The boys runner-up teams in each division play in the second-place game at 4 p.m. that day. Woodrow Wilson beat South Charleston in last year's boys championship game.Teams that finish third through eighth in their divisions hold place-winner games in the days prior to the Night of Champions.
HIT-ting the roadThere's also a different look to the fourth Hometown Invitational Tournament, which competes with a field of 22 public school Class A teams in two divisions (see pairings, Page 2B).For the first time, the HIT ditched its format of having the North and South division teams squaring off against each other in the opening rounds, instead setting up some long (and some interesting) road trips against unfamiliar foes.
Thus, you have games like Valley Wetzel at Buffalo and East Hardy at Greenbrier West, both on Friday."A lot of people wanted to play someone out of their area,'' said Buffalo coach Chuck Elkins.Elkins noted that a few teams in the HIT field already play some of their closer rivals up to five times in a season because they're in the same sections or regions, or compete in the same holiday tournaments."You want to get a little variety in this,'' Elkins said. "Some teams play the same teams year after year after year.''South rises againParkersburg South is enjoying its best season since perhaps 2003, the year of its only Class AAA state title.
The Patriots' 10-0 start is the best in school history, bettering the 9-0 mark posted by the 1981 team, which fell on a shot at the buzzer to crosstown rival Parkersburg in its 10th game.The second half of the season looks a bit more difficult for South, with another game scheduled against Wheeling Park (Feb. 7) as well as dates against Hurricane (Jan. 31 in Beckley during the Big Atlantic Classic), Woodrow Wilson (Feb. 19) and GW (Feb. 27).Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or
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