If you’re playing in the state tournament, you want all hands on deck. Nitro’s boys basketball team recently got some good news in that regard with the return of junior point guard Trey Hall.
Hall is expected to be in the starting lineup at 9 p.m. Wednesday when the Wildcats (16-3) take on Wheeling Central (12-2) in the Class AAA quarterfinals at the Charleston Coliseum.
The 5-foot-10 Hall was feared lost for the season with a high-ankle sprain that included a ligament tear, with the injury coming just seven games into the season.
Nitro was off to a 6-1 start at the time, but lost two of its first three without Hall directing the attack. Moreover, the Wildcats failed to reach 60 points in five of the nine games he eventually missed.
But they’re 3-0 since his return and he also gives coach Austin Lowe’s squad another reliable 3-point threat. Last season, Hall was third on the team with 23 3s behind Kolton Painter and Trevor Lowe.
“He does [make a difference]. He keeps our offense calm,’’ Austin Lowe said of Hall. “He’s our leader. He runs the offense. He’s smooth with the basketball.’’
In Hall’s absence, 5-7 junior Charles Robbins manned the point guard position and helped keep Nitro’s solid season going.
“Sometimes what Charles brings us, Trey doesn’t do as much,’’ Austin Lowe said. “But Trey can keep us under control in these [postseason] games.
“Charles has done well and filled in great for Trey. Charles is still a very important part of what we’re trying to do, but Trey just gives us that [knack] of being able to get the ball out and run well, and distribute it well.’’
Austin Lowe was prepared to go the rest of the season without Hall, but more than three weeks ago Hall’s first diagnosis on his injured ankle was changed.
“We didn’t think we were going to get him back at all,’’ Austin Lowe said, “and now we’ve got him.
“They misread the MRI. We went to a specialist and put him back in intensive physical therapy a few weeks ago. Right after that, we knew we were getting him back toward the end of the [regular season]. He practiced for over a week and got ready to play.’’
Hall’s first game back was Nitro’s first postseason game, the sectional semifinal win against Ripley. He averages about 5 points per game.
Just like Nitro’s girls basketball team that captured its first Class AAA state championship on Saturday, the Wildcats boys team wants to make a bit of history with its first title.
Austin Lowe thinks his team has a decent shot, even coming in as the No. 4 seed and in Wednesday’s quarterfinals playing a Wheeling Central program chock full of state tournament experience.
“I’ll put them up against anybody,’’ Lowe said of his players, “because they’ve got heart. They might not be the best offensive team or the best team, but they want it. They’re not playing for themselves; they’re playing for the town. They get it, they buy in. We don’t have very many bad practices.
“And we’ve bought in defensively. We got into some bad habits in the last week of the regular season. We played so many games with no practice that after we got back to practice, we [improved]. Look at what we’ve been doing in our sectional and regional games — [allowing] 32, 34 and 42 points. That’s pretty good. That’s what we’re riding into [the tournament].’’
Lowe said the Wildcats had a four-part plan this season — win the Cardinal Conference (they shared the title with Logan), win their sectional and regional and win the state tournament.
“They had a mission,’’ Lowe said. “Step 3 is complete and Step 4 is coming up. It’s been a four-step process all year.’’
Ripley coach Luke Parsons, who lost to Nitro in the sectional semifinals, thinks the Wildcats have what it takes to contend for the title.
“They can definitely score the ball with anybody,’’ Parsons said. “It’s going to be determined, but if they can stay out of foul trouble, they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.’’