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Girls basketball: Kanawha Valley teams shoot for states

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Softball has dominated female athletics at St. Albans High School for the better part of two decades.In fact, names such as Osborne, Handley, Snodgrass, Hickman, Haynes and Caudill have been prominent among most athletes at SA for the better part of the last 10 years, with the latter four playing key roles in the school's 2010 state championship in the sport.Red Dragon girls basketball coach Scott James said Monday that the program has no hard record of the last time it reached the Class AAA state tournament.That last appearance - a 69-61 first-round loss to Woodrow Wilson in 1993 - came six months after Greg Garber took over as softball coach at the school. Girls basketball was played in the fall sports season at the time, and as Garber's program rose to state prominence, the girls basketball program became a comparative afterthought.That can change this evening, when the Red Dragons (19-5) play host to Cabell Midland (17-6) at 7 p.m. in a Region 4 co-final at Tex Williams Gymnasium in St. Albans. The winner gets a bid to the state tournament, which begins March 12 at the Charleston Civic Center.Coincidentally, Garber announced last month that he would not coach in 2014 in order to properly recover from recent heart surgery."I think we won three games in my first two years after I took over as coach," James said Monday. "There's a lot of people who know basketball better than I do, but there's not many who work harder. We've worked hard to give our girls every opportunity they can to find ways to get better."We have basketball players in this school. We've got potential. I think last year showed that, and the girls came in this year hungry to take the next step," James said.The Class AAA state tournament field will be settled tonight, weather permitting, with eight regional games taking place across the state. Locally, South Charleston will take on Woodrow Wilson in a Region 3 co-final with George Washington traveling to face Greenbrier East in the other Region 3 game.Winfield (12-12) will play at Huntington in another Region 4 co-final tonight.The Class A field will be determined by games Wednesday, and Class AA regionals are set for Thursday.A Jan. 18 ceremony at the school to honor St. Albans' state championship girls basketball team from 1985 served as a reminder to the current squad what is attainable for the program, James said. "That got them thinking, and we've told them it's been a long time and they understand they're building a legacy," James said.Of course, nothing is settled yet and the history lesson could be for naught if the Dragons aren't able to corral Midland post players Emily Pitkin (14.3 points per game) and Sierra Jordan (13.3). Pitkin is 6-foot-2 while Jordan is listed at 5-11.Midland is looking to return to the state tournament for the first time since 1998. The Knights eliminated Class AAA No. 3 Spring Valley, an early favorite to contend for the state title, with a surprising 58-50 win over the Mountain State Athletic Conference champion Timberwolves, but then fell to Huntington 62-53 in overtime in the Region 4, Section 2 title game.
"They present a challenge to us because we don't have that kind of size in the post," James said. "It's a different sort of matchup for us."St. Albans junior center Breanna Propst (5-11, 13.7 ppg) is the obvious counter-balance to Midland's 1-2 front court punch, but she'll need help. That's where James hopes to have freshmen Alli Johnson (5-9) and Haleigh Legg (5-11) continue to provide quality minutes off the bench as they have throughout the season."Haleigh's a true post player. She knows to go to the bucket once she's got the ball and she's good in the post," James said. "With Alli, she can do many things. She can shoot from outside or we can put her in the post."They've gained some confidence throughout the year but their biggest problem is sometimes they worry about being freshmen. We need them to forget that and play the way they're capable of."
Johnson provided a helpful spark in SA's sectional opening win against Hurricane last week, hitting 3-of-4 shots from 3-point range. The duo contributed 22 points in the Dragons' 69-35 rout. They chipped in a combined 13 in a 53-27 win over Winfield in the Region 4, Section 1 championship game Feb. 28.
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  • AFTER A year away from coaching, Gary Greene again has South Charleston on the verge of a state tournament berth.The Black Eagles (19-3) missed the tournament a year ago while Greene was tending to the health of his wife. With him back on the bench and with a full compliment of young players led by sophomore center Taliah Cashwell and flashy freshman point guard Aaliyah Dunham.Cashwell leads SC in scoring at 13 ppg, while Dunham is not far behind, at 11.6 ppg.Woodrow (7-12) is one of five teams with a record of .500 or worse that are playing for state tournament berths tonight. The others include Wheeling Park (9-12), which plays at Morgantown (14-8) in Region 1. Lewis County (7-15) and Winfield (12-12) are on the road in Region 2 and Region 4 co-finals, and Hampshire (11-11) plays host to Spring Mills (15-7) after the Trojans won the title in Region 2, Section 2.The Flying Eagles are led by Aaliyah Williams, who averaged 20.2 points per game in the regular season.
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  • KELLI JO Harrison's return from knee surgery all comes down to a trip to Fairlea tonight, where George Washington (12-10) takes on Greenbrier East (22-1).The Patriot senior forward missed the first half of the season while rehabbing the knee, and during that process junior forward Alanna Mobayed emerged as a team leader, and leads GW in scoring at 12.2 ppg.However, after coach Jamie LaMaster's club won its first seven games with Harrison back in the lineup its fortunes have changed of late. The Patriots have lost four of their last five games, including last week's Region 3, Section 1 championship-game loss to South Charleston.Chaunte McDowell leads the Spartans in scoring at 20.4 ppg.
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  • WINFIELD'S ATTEMPT at making its first state tournament appearance since moving to Class AAA will be an uphill battle at Huntington (20-4). The Generals own two wins over Class AAA teams with winning records this season, with both of those wins coming against Region 4, Section 1 rival Nitro (15-8).The Highlanders beat Winfield 82-51 in the teams' only meeting this season, on Jan. 24 in Winfield.Winfield junior guard Haylea Roberson leads the Generals by scoring 18.4 points per game, while Huntington is led by Dazha Congleton (13.6) and Jordyn Dawson (13.4).
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  • CHARLESTON CATHOLIC (18-6) plays at Williamstown (16-7) in a Class A Region 4 co-final on Wednesday. In Class AA, Sissonville (20-3) plays host to Chapmanville (14-9) on Thursday, the same night that Herbert Hoover (18-6) plays at Scott (17-5) in another Region 4 game. The Huskies are trying to make their first appearance in the state tournament since 1988, when the school was a member of Class AAA. 
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