Boys basketball state tourney wrapup: Highlanders take the high road — again

Sholten Singer | The Herald-Dispatch
Huntington’s Mikal Dawson prepares to go up for a shot while being guarded by Capital’s Anthony Pittman during the Class AAA championship game Saturday at the Civic Center.

One of these years, they’ll get it right when it comes to seeding Huntington in the Class AAA state tournament.

The Highlanders, appearing in the finals for a fourth straight season, captured their third championship in that span with a convincing 50-42 victory over No. 1 seed Capital at the Charleston Civic Center.

Despite all that, the Highlanders have never been seeded first during their run of success.

This season, they were seeded third, last year second, third again in 2015 and fifth in 2014 when they began their domination.

“That’s all right,’’ said Huntington coach Ron Hess of the seeding snub, “we like where we are.’’

Where they are right now is rarefied air. Only two other times since the Class AAA division began in 1959 has a team claimed as many as three crowns in four years — Huntington, which took three straight with Patrick Patterson from 2005-07, and Woodrow Wilson (1990-93).

And with junior standout Mikal Dawson (22 ppg) returning next winter, the Highlanders (22-5) figure to be in the mix yet again. He scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half Saturday as Huntington never trailed after the first few seconds of the third quarter.

“Mikal is definitely one of the best players in the state, if not the best player in the state,’’ Hess said. “When he’s on the floor, he can take over games and he knows that. At the end, I said, ‘Mikal, just get the ball and take the ball to the basket.’ ’’

Saturday’s outcome also capped an “Awesome Dawson’’ week for one Huntington family. Senior John Dawson, older brother of Mikal, added 15 points to the Highlanders win, which came exactly one week after sister Jordyn Dawson, a Xavier recruit, led Huntington to the AAA girls title at the Civic Center.

John Dawson was part of Huntington’s boys championships in 2014 and 2015, but last year played at crosstown St. Joseph, where he played a big role in the Class A crown won by the Irish.

So confident was John Dawson Saturday that he brought all three of his past state title plaques to the Civic Center and, following the victory over Capital, posed for photos with all four of his championship awards.

“I had no clue this would ever happen,’’ he said, “because it didn’t happen to anyone else.’’

Hess said that brotherly bond made a difference for the Highlanders.

“Mikal and John wanted to win one together,’’ Hess said, “and I think that showed out there, too.’’

Capital (23-5), which was ranked No. 1 in the state much of the season, wasn’t able to bring home its first championship since 2001, but with talent returning such as high-flying Anthony Pittman, Kerry Martin Jr., K.J. Figures and Jabbar Thompson, the Cougars figure to contend again and keep the new tradition going.

“Most definitely,’’ Pittman said following Saturday’s loss. “Our goal next year is to get back here where we were today, and win it.’’

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Fairmont Senior made a little history of its own Saturday, winning back-to-back titles for the first time in the history of the school.

The Polar Bears (25-3), ranked No. 1 most of the year and seeded first in the Class AA state tournament, rallied from 10 points down in the second half to get past upstart Chapmanville Regional 59-54.

“I have to pinch myself,’’ said Fairmont coach David Retton. “First repeat championship in the rich basketball tradition of our school.’’

With four starters back for next year, the Polar Bears will be expected to contend again. In fact, one supporter approached Retton moments after Saturday’s win and told him they’ve got to three-peat next year.

“I said, ‘Hey, we just got finished with this game, and I just wanted to enjoy that,’ ’’ Retton said. “We’re going to Shoney’s and eat. We’ve got big budgets.’’

Chapmanville (23-5), making its third state tournament appearance in four years but its first-ever visit to the finals, should also be strong again with the return of four starters, including sharpshooting Drew Williamson and 6-foot-8 freshman Obinna Anochili-Killen, who made remarkable progress during the course of the season.

“I hope so,’’ said Tigers coach Brad Napier of getting back to the Civic Center. “These guys worked extremely hard and they’re a close group. I’ve been coaching 16 years now, and this is one of the closest groups of kids I’ve had.

“We lose four good seniors, but the core group of the team will be back, so it’s an exciting time for basketball in our community, and people are excited. I don’t think that will change this year to next year.’’

The lowest-seeded team to take a title Saturday was Notre Dame (23-5), the No. 4 seed in Class A, which outlasted Ravenswood 63-55 in the finals.

It was the first Class A state championship ever for the Irish, who became the sixth different private school to earn a title since 1999. Since that time, 16 of 19 Class A crowns have gone to private schools.

For Notre Dame coach Jarrod West, the moment sparked sweet memories.

“This feels better than 1998 when I hit the shot to win that game,’’ he said with a big smile.

As West Virginia University fans vividly recall, West banked in a 3-pointer against Cincinnati with less than one second left during the 1998 NCAA Tournament to send the Mountaineers to the Sweet 16.

His son, senior guard Jarrod West, a Marshall recruit, led the Irish cause with 80 points, 19 rebounds and 19 assists in his team’s three-game run. He went 8 of 12 on 3-pointers.

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The Huntington-Capital matchup marked the eighth time two Mountain State Athletic Conference teams squared off for the state Class AAA title since the league formed in the 1993-94 school year.

In 16 of the last 19 seasons, there’s been at least one MSAC team represented in the state finals, and the league has produced 11 state champions in that time.

In all, eight different MSAC teams have played in the title game since 1994 — DuPont, Capital, George Washington, Cabell Midland, South Charleston, Huntington, Woodrow Wilson and Hurricane.

For Kanawha Valley teams, however, the beat went on in the other direction. Since 1994, AAA teams from Kanawha or Putnam counties are a combined 3-11 in the state title game.

Contact Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @RickRyanWV.

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