In the most important game of their lives, Herbert Hoover’s players weren’t going to let the opportunity slip away.
Even when junior point guard and leading scorer Devin Hatfield started out misfiring Tuesday night, the Huskies had his back, and never looked back.
Hatfield recovered to tally 23 points and Trevor Rager nearly pulled off a double-double with 14 points and nine rebounds as the Huskies set down Westside 79-58 to capture the Class AAA Region 3 co-final at George Washington High School and earn a spot in next week’s state tournament.
It’s just the second-ever trip to the big show for Hoover (13-3), which was awarded the No. 6 seed and faces No. 3 Shady Spring at 9:30 a.m. next Wednesday at the Charleston Coliseum.
The Huskies survived an incredibly fast-paced first quarter Tuesday to grab a 40-30 lead at halftime and never saw their advantage dip below six points against the foul-prone Renegades (9-7).
“I’m so proud of them all,’’ said Hoover coach Josh Stricker. “Everyone played a tremendous game. They deserve all the credit [for] listening to us every day at practice. I couldn’t be more happier for them. A good team win.’’
Evan Colucci knocked down four of Westside’s six first-quarter 3-pointers and the Renegades trailed just 24-20 after one period. But that’s about the time Westside started working its way into foul trouble. By halftime, two starters (Daniel Reed, Wesley Browning) had picked up three fouls and two others had two.
Hoover was also working the offensive boards with fervor. At halftime, the Huskies led 25-12 in rebounding, including 10 offensive boards. The final margin was 43-24.
“They killed us on the boards,’’ said Renegades coach Shawn Jenkins. “We really didn’t rebound very good at all. You can’t win basketball games when you give up two, three shot opportunities.’’
Westside still wasn’t out of it at the break. In fact, the Renegades got two quick buckets in the third quarter to make it 40-34, prompting Stricker to call for a quick timeout just 38 seconds into the period. Hatfield was only 1 of 11 shooting at that point, so Westside still had a shot.
At least in theory. The Renegades’ shooting actually went south, as they were 0 of 6 on 3s in the second quarter and 1 of 8 in the third quarter, falling behind 55-42 heading into the final period.
“We made a run when we first came out,’’ Jenkins said, “and our defense was pretty good. Then we had three, four straight possessions where they didn’t score and we got the ball and we never scored once. It’s hard to make a comeback against Hoover — they’re a pretty good team — when you don’t put the ball in the hole. We had an opportunity there, and we just didn’t do anything with it.
“That’s been us all year. We shoot the 3s. That’s just what we do. It wasn’t necessarily the shot selection. It’s just that we didn’t make any.’’
Even as Westside kept sinking further and further into foul problems — Browning and Ethan Blackburn eventually fouled out — Hatfield started to find his range. He nailed back to back 3s in the third quarter and made four of his final five shots in the game to go along with an 11 of 15 effort on free throws.
“My teammates rallied behind me,’’ Hatfield said. “They just told me to keep shooting. Eli [Robertson] and Trevor told me to keep shooting, but I know I’m more than just a shooter. I can pass, I can play defense. I just tried to let the game come to me in the second half, and I shot better.’’
Everyone on Hoover shot better in the second half. The Huskies were 12 of 19 on field goals and 11 of 15 on foul shots in the second half to close it out. Robertson added 13 points and six rebounds for the Huskies and Jack Copenhaver had eight points and seven rebounds.
For Westside, Colucci finished with 24 points (including six 3s), Blackburn added 12 points and Daniel Reed 11. Reed missed the team’s first meeting this season with a concussion. The Renegades ended up 9 of 29 on 3-pointers after a 6 of 8 first quarter.
“We knew [Colucci] could shoot,’’ Stricker said, “and then he comes out hotter than crap, so kudos to them. That’s a heck of a program up there and we couldn’t be happier to beat them two times in a year.
“We’re ready for the challenge. We can’t wait to go [to the state tournament]. Hopefully, we can do some damage.’’
Hoover’s only other trip to the state tournament came in 2017 in the Class AA division, a first-round loss to Fairmont Senior. The Elk River school opened in 1963.