The road to the Class AAAA girls basketball state championship wound its way through every region in “Almost Heaven.”
It reached from Shenandoah Junction and Martinsburg in the Eastern Panhandle, north to Morgantown, swung to Wheeling in the Northern Panhandle, headed south to Charleston, took a turn into the Southern Coalfields in Beckley, then finished in the west end of the state with Barboursville and Huntington.
It was a long and relentless road.
That’s why most people probably would guess the culmination of this journey would be a joyous occasion. And that usually would be true.
But when arch-rivals from the same county square off for the AAAA state championship, it’s another whole ballgame. It’s a completely different mindset.
Remember the classic good sportsmanship premise that goes something like this? If I have to lose to somebody, we would want it be you.
Well, forget it.
When such arch-rivals from Cabell County as Huntington and Cabell Midland tangle, that good sportsmanship concept flies right out the window and blows down Route 60.
And that’s precisely what happened here Saturday night in the girls basketball state tournament in the Charleston Coliseum.
Cabell Midland already had a 60-47 loss to Huntington’s Highlanders on its 2021 resume, and the Knights wanted to avenge it with every fiber of their being.
The No. 1-seeded Highlanders had no intention of losing the upper hand in this heated cross-country rivalry.
And they didn’t.
Huntington used an 11-1 run that started late in the third quarter and lapped over into the fourth quarter to capture a 58-49 victory over Cabell Midland and the Class AAAA championship.
Was it sweeter because it was against Cabell Midland?
Just ask the Highlanders if there is anyone they would rather defeat in a championship game than the Knights.
“No,” said junior center Imani Hickman emphatically.
What she lacked in words, Hickman made up with in facial expression.
How about you, LaTahia Jackson? Tell us how much you like to defeat Cabell Midland.
“That’s my favorite,” replied Jackson with a grin.
Any love lost?
But that vengeful door swings both ways. Just ask Cabell Midland coach Matt Adkins if there are any opponents he hates losing to more than Huntington.
“No,” answered Adkins quickly and distinctively. Then, he took a deep breath and paused a few heartbeats before adding another “No.”
Knights senior forward Autumn Lewis was a bit more talkative. Hey, Autumn, anyone you hate to lose to more than the Highlanders?
“No one,” she said. “Not even close.”
Welcome to the interesting world of bitter rivalries. But what else could anybody expect when Huntington and Cabell Midland are located only 16 miles apart?
It leads to a not-so-civil war. That’s particularly the case when Huntington and Cabell Midland were the No. 1- and No. 2-seeded Class AAAA teams, respectively, in the state tournament.
For the winning team, Huntington, it makes the victory and state championship even sweeter. For the losing squad, Cabell Midland, it makes the defeat even more unbearable.
That’s what happened here Saturday night.
Aren’t rivalries fun?