It’s been a while since Nitro or Winfield has been in this position — playing for a spot in the state tournament — but both hold the opportunity Thursday evening when Class AA regional co-finals are held around West Virginia.
The Wildcats haven’t played in the big show since 1999, and the Generals since 2009. In both instances, they were part of the Class AAA event. On Thursday, however, they look to advance in AA, a division they joined in 2016 when the SSAC reclassified its member schools.
Nitro (20-4), which has already equaled the school record for wins in a season, travels to state power Chapmanville Regional (23-1) in one Region 3 co-final, while Winfield (17-7) hosts Logan (16-9) in the other Region 3 game. Tipoff for all regional games across the state is 7 p.m., with winners advancing to the March 14-17 state tournament at the Charleston Civic Center.
Chapmanville brings a 17-game winning streak into Thursday’s game with Nitro as it attempts to get back to the Civic Center, where it fell to Fairmont Senior in last year’s finals. In their only meeting this season, the Tigers tamed the Wildcats 73-63 on Jan. 19 in Nitro.
“We’ve been watching that game,’’ said Nitro coach Kevin Musilli, “and if we get some opportunities, we’d better take advantage of them. If we knock down some open shots early in that last game, we’d put ourselves in a better position and maybe we’d be up six or eight instead of down [38-33 at halftime]. But the other side of that is that Chapmanville also missed some open looks they’ll consistently knock down. I know they struggled from 3-point range in that game.’’
Chapmanville, in fact, was 0 of 17 on 3-pointers at Nitro, something that rarely happens to a team that features the outside shooting of all-stater Drew Williamson (15.8 points per game), Devin Collins, Dylan Smith and Kyle Browning. Obinna Anochili-Killen, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, averages 13 points and double-figure rebounds for the Tigers.
For Nitro, junior Joel Sweat (18.7 points) and sophomore Qwailei Turner (14.2) pace the scoring, and Andrew Mahairas leads the Kanawha Valley with 71 3-pointers.
“I believe they are ready to step up and play,’’ Musilli said of his team. “I’m eager to find out how ready we are to compete on that scale in a very tough environment.
“Chapmanville obviously is very good, and I think as far as teams in the state of West Virginia, we played them better than anybody. We had it to a one-possession game with under four minutes to go. I don’t think any other team was able to do that. We see some things we hope we can take advantage of, and I’m sure they’ll see the same thing.’’
The lone loss for Chapmanville came to Lebanon, Tennessee, during a holiday tournament in Pigeon Forge. The Tigers are 10-0 at home this season and have won their last 13 games there.
Winfield, meanwhile, gets the home-court edge against Logan. In their only game during the regular season, the Wildcats prevailed 62-53 behind 29 points from sophomore guard and Division I prospect David Early.
Generals coach Chris Stephens noted that it’s difficult to start out with a game plan of containing the 6-foot-4 Early, who has deep shooting range, at the expense of letting the other Wildcats run free. Early averages about 21 points per game, and is the lone double-figure scorer on his squad.
“It’s a hard thing to try to accomplish,’’ Stephens said. “If you try to limit him, he’s so good that he’s probably still going to get some. If you’re worried about him and allow the other guys to get open looks, they may get more [than usual]. We’ve prepared all week with a couple different looks to try and throw at them because he is very talented.
“In our first game, I think he only had 10 points through three quarters, but then he got going and hit three straight 3s in a span of five possessions. You really have to keep on him after he does hit a shot because he likes to go back and get another one. It’s tough to limit a player like him because he’s so big and physical.’’
Dino Noe (9.4) and Terrance Chapman (9.0) are Logan’s top two scorers behind Early. For Winfield, senior point guard and West Virginia Wesleyan commit Braeden McGrew stands as the top scorer (18.5 ppg) and has canned 46 3s. Andrew Huff (9.7) and Brian Fisher (8.0) round out the Generals’ scoring leaders.
Stephens said one of his team’s goals this season was to host a regional game instead of having to hit the road like it’s done so often in recent years. He hopes it helps provide an edge against a Logan team that’s come on in recent weeks, winning 12 of its past 17.
“Rebounding will be huge in this game,’’ Stephens said, “because Logan can throw different lineups at you. They have a big lineup, and they’ve played up in the past. If they go with a smaller lineup, there’s a couple things you’ve got to try and do to adjust to that.
“But rebounding will be huge, and transition points on both offense and defense will be crucial. They’ve got guys who can hit 3s off transition, and we didn’t match up a few times with them in that first game. Defensive transition will be just as important as offensive transition, because we like to get some easy buckets, too, before the defense sets.’’