The past week has been about survival. Friday becomes about positioning.
But while a girls basketball sectional final game may not be a do-or-die scenario, a win can certainly make life easier on teams with state-tournament aspirations.
On Friday night, four Kanawha Valley teams will fight for sectional titles and the right to host regional co-final games next week.
In Class AAA Region 3 Section 1, George Washington will meet St. Albans for the fourth time this season, this time to determine who will host and who will hit the road next week with a trip to the state tournament hanging in the balance. The Patriots (15-8) won all three of the prior matchups, with the most recent, coming in a tight 68-63 contest that saw the Red Dragons (11-12) lead for a large chunk of the game.
“We’re definitely familiar with each other, there’s no surprise factor,” GW coach Jamie LaMaster said. “We’ve got to worry about George Washington and what we do well and do it better than them. We have to value the basketball, we have to defend [SA’s Aamyah] Washington inside, and you’re not going to stop [St. Albans point guard] Jaden McDaniels but you’ve got to try and contain her. Anytime she gets into the paint, bad things happen.”
The Red Dragons certainly go as their senior leader McDaniels goes. And though St. Albans came closer in its most recent loss to GW than in the first two games (30- and 21-point losses), coach Scott Tweedy knows his team must take yet another step forward to get the job done this time.
“The first two times, they absolutely annihilated us,” Tweedy said. “We weren’t in the game. We were searching, we went up to GW and played them in a regular-season game and we had a lead in the fourth quarter. We just didn’t finish; we made some careless turnovers late and they hit a couple of shots. They’re a good team.
“We’re just glad and happy we’re still playing, and for the most part, outside of Jaden, we’re still a relatively young team, gives us a little more experience. We’ll go up there, we’ll see what happens and whatever is will be.”
The winner will host the loser of a game between Greenbrier East and Woodrow Wilson. The GW-SA loser will hit the road to face the East-Woodrow winner.
“I told them after [Wednesday’s win over Capital], ‘Guys, there are teams tonight that their seasons are over,’ ” LaMaster said. “’What you’ve done is guarantee yourself two more games. That can go two ways. We can handle business on Friday and host a regional final or you can choose not to play the way we need you to play and go on the road and try to get to the state tournament that way.’
“The good thing is we’re in total control of our destiny and that’s a great place to be.”
Winfield is the lone remaining Class AA team from the Kanawha Valley and the Generals will hit the road to take on top-seeded Wayne in the Region 4 Section 1 final.
The Pioneers (22-1) picked up a 62-59 win at Winfield on Jan. 8 and have only a loss to GW as a blemish on their slate.
Wayne prides itself on toughness and rebounding, two things that also happen to be strengths for the Generals (17-7).
“The first time, they were able to control tempo and take care of the basketball,” Winfield coach Jimmy McPherson said. “Those are two things you have to do to beat us. Their coach does a great job. They run their stuff, they get what they want offensively. It will be a battle of wills and we need to impose our will on them and make it an 84-foot game, play good defense and handle the boards.”
Winfield made a run to the Class AA semifinals a year ago and, despite some ups and downs this year, are in a prime position to make a return trip. Having home-court advantage against the loser in the Region 4 Section 2 title game between Logan and Lincoln County would certainly help that cause.
“I told them I want to be at home,” McPherson said. “We play better at home and that’s going to be huge.”
Finally, there’s Charleston Catholic, which continued its run through the postseason with a 42-41 win over top-seeded Midland Trail in the Class A Region 3 Section 1 tournament on Wednesday.
The Irish (9-13) were once 2-8 and have already gone through a mid-season coaching change after Zack Bogan stepped down for personal reasons, giving way to Wes Hevener. Yet Catholic, trying to make a return trip to the Civic Center after falling to Summers County in last year’s first round, is back and has positioned itself with a sectional final at Pocahontas County on Friday.
The Warriors defeated the Irish 49-35 on Jan. 6 as part of a six-game Catholic losing streak. But the Irish, who’ve won four of their last five games, are proving to be a different team now.
“I feel like we’re peaking at the right time,” Hevener said. “We’re playing with a lot of confidence. It’s good to get those types of atmospheres.”
With state tournament experience and with a roster that’s already endured a tumultuous season, it’s unlikely Catholic will be overwhelmed by any moment, much less the one awaiting it on Friday.
“All the credit goes to the girls,” Hevener said. “They’ve handled every bit of adversity thrown at them with all the character you could ask for. Every day they come in and work hard, and that’s all we can ask.”
On the other side of the region, Summers County and Meadow Bridge will also play on Friday. The winner will host the Catholic-Pocahontas loser with the loser heading to either Catholic or Pocahontas in next week’s regional co-finals.