If this is indeed the end of the line for Charleston Catholic’s basketball team — and it looks more and more that way every day — can the season then be considered a success?
Under first-year coach Hunter Moles, the Irish qualified for the Class A state tournament for the first time in five years. State tournaments used to be a way of life for Catholic, which went 11 straight times between 2004-14.
The Irish (19-5) earned the No. 2 seed in the eight-team state tournament field following a season that had a good share of high points, along with a couple of low points. However, with the specter of the coronavirus shutting down nearly everything in the United States, including all high school athletics in West Virginia, this may be as far as the Irish go. The final word on the fate of the state’s basketball season is expected in the coming days.
Moles took a philosophical approach to the possible end of a season that showed so much promise.
“I think it was a success,’’ he said, “for a lot of things. We try to base our program not entirely off wins and losses, but I think the relationships we build and the energy we show every day at practice. I think we built that with our group very well this year. I think we got better, which long-term will help us down the road.
“It always helps when you win basketball games. And that’s the goal to get to the Civic Center and play there. I’m proud of our guys. They bought in, and it was a successful first year.’’
Moles was asked when he knew he had a team that was capable of getting back to the state tournament.
“Going into the three-week [summer practice] period,’’ he said, “I saw guys who were going to work hard. But once we got into the season and the first couple days of practice, I said, ‘Man, we’ve got a pretty good team,’ when you saw all the competition and things like that.
“It was probably after the first couple games that we started to get a feel for each other as a coaching staff and with the players — just to get used to each other. So we tried to take things one game at a time so we don’t look too far ahead. But it was probably early in the season that I said we’ve got a pretty good chance to get to the Civic Center.’’
Junior guard Zion Suddeth, the Kanawha Valley’s defensive player of the year as a sophomore, said he could see the possibilities for the Irish early on.
“I knew probably from the first couple practices,’’ Suddeth said, “how intense they were and how everyone was working hard to get people better.
“Then, once we started to click a little bit, we proved to ourselves that we could play. When we won up in Wheeling, we knew we could play with anybody in the state. I think we can do that. If we play our game and listen to our coach, we can compete with anybody in the state.’’
The first domino to fall for Catholic was its 75-64 victory at traditional Class A power Wheeling Central on Jan. 10, as junior Aiden Satterfield gunned in 33 points. After that came wins against Class AAA Cabell Midland and Class A top-five foes Greater Beckley Christian and Notre Dame. The losses came to AAA South Charleston, AA Poca (twice) and Scott and once to Greater Beckley.
Moles hopes his team gets the chance to write the final chapter in its journey, but realizes it looks more doubtful every day as COVID-19 takes hold around the country.
“Definitely, we might not get to [play],’’ Moles said, “and that’s why you feel for these seniors because they don’t get to do this again. I get to come back next year and coach and get the chance to go back [to the state tournament] with another team, so I feel for this team knowing how much they worked. This is the toughest part.’’
Moles hasn’t seen much of his players in the past week, since practices aren’t allowed while classes and extracurriculars are suspended around the state. But he left them with a positive message.
“I told them to try and stay in shape, because you never know,’’ Moles said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they took a couple days off. Same with our guys who play baseball. Hopefully we can finish and hopefully they have a baseball season.’’
Moles said he’s even taken his own advice to heart while the season remains in limbo.
“I’ve been working out myself,’’ said Moles, a former South Charleston and WVU Tech athlete. “Trying to get back into shape a little bit. I’ve been going outside and running and trying to clear my head, trying to stay busy.
“It’s weird just dropping my evening activities so quick. I used to go the [Athletic] Facility and get the basketball things ready, and now I don’t have to do that. But I want to keep moving and doing something.’’