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ON THE MARK: The return of the state tournament: Column

Mark Martin
Mark Martin

The emptiness felt a year ago when the West Virginia High School Boys State Basketball Tournament was cancelled in March due to COVID-19 is hard to describe. 

And one can’t even begin to think what it was like for the players and coaches who had earned the right to be there (along with 16 Class AA teams who still had a regional co-final to go in order to nail down a spot).

While it took until May to get the boys state tournament back, it was well worth the wait.

And though there was a limit as to how many fans could attend due to COVID-19, plenty of electricity surrounded the games inside the Charleston Coliseum.

Here are some nuggets from last week’s 106th annual state tournament:

RYAN’S HOPE: Pendleton County head coach Ryan Lambert once played in the state tournament against Ravenswood.

As a star player at Petersburg High School, Lambert and his red and black clad Vikings defeated the Red Devils in an opening Class AA game of  the 2000 tournament.

Lambert is Petersburg’s all-time leading scorer and his sister, Katie, is the all-time girls leader for points.

Lambert’s Pendleton County Wildcats lost a heartbreaker to Man in the Class A state championship ending a 40-game winning streak.

In meeting Lambert, who played college basketball at Bridgewater in Virginia, for the first time, I found him to be a class act.

DEVIL FOE I: A rival Ravenswood plays year and year out came away with a championship.

Williamstown, a Ravenswood foe in the Little Kanawha Conference, won the Class AA title by holding off the Poca Dots.

It was the school’s first state title since 1962.

Williamstown head coach Scott Sauro is a close personal friend of Ravenswood head coach Mick Price. The Red Devil veteran leader had a nice chat with Sauro, who he has known since he was a young boy, prior to the Poca game.

Price recalls sending a Sauro a small plaque 17 years ago to congratulate him on his first head coaching victory.

Saturday’s state championship win was Sauro’s 286th as head coach at his alma mater, where his father, Fred, is the girls head coach.

X FACTOR: One of Sauro’s standout players the past few seasons has been Xavier Caruthers.

The senior was instrumental in Williamstown’s title run.

He is the grandson of former Ripley head boys basketball coach Jim Dagostine, who guided the Vikings to 14 wins in the season of 1977-78. His father, Ash Caruthers, is one of Williamstown’s assistant coaches.

DEVIL FOE II: One of the most exciting games of the tournament came in the Class AA semifinals where Poca knocked off Charleston Catholic at the buzzer to earn the championship game berth.

Charleston Catholic defeated Ravenswood in the regular season, 45-33. The game was certainly much closer than the final score indicated and was one of Catholic’s tougher matchups of the year.

DEVIL FOE III: A team Ravenswood did defeat during the regular season was Ritchie County (59-49).

The Rebels would ultimately make it to the state tournament.

Not only was it the first appearance in school history for RCHS, but others that came before the Rebels. Ritchie County was formed by the old high schools of Pennsboro and Harrisville. (Cairo had been closed a few years earlier with students attending Harrisville).

Rick Haught’s team gave it everything they had in a tournament opener with Charleston Catholic before the Irish pulled out a 68-58 win.

Congrats to Coach Haught, a class act, and his team.

WEBSTER’S WORD: While Ravenswood didn’t play Webster County during the regular season, the Highlander program, like Ritchie and Williamstown, is a member of the Little Kanawha Conference.

The Highlanders defeated Tucker County in their Class A tourney opener before falling in the semifinals to the eventual state champion Man Hillbillies.

Webster had been the last Class A champ in 2019.

CLAY RETURN: Clay County, another LKC member, returned to the tournament for the first time since 2006.

The Panthers dropped a hard-fought Class AA opening round game against Chapmanville Regional.

VIKING FOE I: Winfield, a team Ripley fell twice to during the regular season, reached the Class AAA semifinals.

The Generals of head coach Chris Stephens, the No. 7 seed, knocked off No. 2 Fairmont Senior in the opening round before falling to eventual state champion Shady Spring in the semifinals.

VIKING FOE II: Nitro, who downed the Vikings three times in 2021, was also part of the Class AAA field. The Wildcats lost a buzzer-beater to Wheeling Central in the opening round.

Central was coached by Mel Stephens, Chris’ father.

The Maroon Knights went on to lose in the championship to Shady.

There was the possibility of a father vs. son matchup taking place in the title game had both Central and Winfield won in the semifinals.

CHEERING THE SINGERS: The Ripley cheerleaders sang the national anthem prior to a pair of sessions at the tournament.

A job well done was turned in by Isabella Bottini, Emily Frashier, Niki Adcock, Jazmin Parsons, Bailey Keeler, Kristabell Carte, Mya Phalen and Kaylee Smith.

CABELL’S CARSON: A familiar name dotted the Cabell Midland roster for the state tournament in Carson Thompson.

The sophomore has plenty of ties to Jackson County. His parents, Todd and Brandi (Anderson), are both Ripley High graduates.

His father played for Ripley High in the program’s first and only state tournament game. Todd Thompson turned in quite a performance off the bench that day in 1996 for the Vikings of head coach Randy Anderson.

And speaking of Anderson, the current Boyd County, Kentucky High School boys head basketball coach just happens to be Carson Thompson’s great uncle.

Also, Luke Salmons, a former Ravenswood Red Devil standout and the successful head football coach at Cabell Midland, is Thompson’s uncle.

PLAYING THROUGH THE PAIN: Every year teams deal with adversity heading into the state tournament.

But what Beckley Woodrow Wilson was going through was something at a different level.

On Sunday night, just days before coming to Charleston, the Flying Eagles lost a member of their team when junior Dwayne Richardson was shot and killed.

The team and community tried to remember the young player in a variety of ways, including leaving a chair open on the bench with his No. 12 jersey draped across the back.

Besides the loss of Richardson, the Beckley community was hit hard with the passing of Gelilah Barksdale, the wife of Dave Barksdale, a Flying Eagle coaching legend.

Barksdale had been serving as an assistant with the program but took a year off to be with his wife.

REMEMBERING KJ: In addition to young Dwayne Richardson’s shooting death, the loss of Capital High senior KJ Taylor is still on the minds of many in the greater Charleston area.

Taylor died from a shooting in April.

Seeing two young lives like this taken so soon is hard to grasp.

Please keep the family and friends of these two young men in your hearts and prayers.  

REMEMBERING FRED ALDRIDGE: GW head coach Rick Greene’s voice cracked while speaking of the late Fred Aldridge following his Patriots Class AAAA state championship win over Morgantown.

“This is Coach Aldridge’s fourth state championship. Because the core of what we do is what he taught us to do,” said Greene.

Aldridge served many years as a school administrator in Jackson County. The Goldtown resident was first an assistant principal at Ripley High before moving on to lead Ravenswood High School.

Before he moved into administration, he was a successful coach. He guided GW to its first state boys basketball championship in 1971. The Patriots defeated Charles Town that year and Greene was one of Aldridge’s players.

The latest title was the third with Greene running the Patriot program.

“This is all in honor of Coach Aldridge,” Greene said. “It means a lot that we’ve been able to some extent carry on what Coach started.”

THE CLASS OF CLASSES: This marked the first year of a two-season trial for four classifications.

It took some getting used to, but after watching it unfold by following many of the games (both for the girls and boys tournaments) it grew on me.

I am definitely a big fan of the four championships on Saturday.

Those in favor said it best in that eight more teams get to come to Charleston and experience the statournament.

The caution will be in making sure the event doesn’t get watered down.

After calling and covering games for two straight weeks, I hope it stays put with four classes over a five-day period.

It certainly was a great time to get it started after the stoppage of both tournaments a year ago.