CHARLESTON – It just wasn’t Tug Valley’s day in the Class A Boys Basketball State Tournament Semifinals against undefeated Pendleton County on Thursday morning at the Charleston Coliseum as cold-shooting sent the Panthers home with a 38-35 defeat.
The Panthers (13-3) had hopes of attempting to complete the first sweep of the girls and boys Class A tournaments since 2008 when Wheeling Central Catholic took both titles, but head coach Garland “Rabbit” Thompson’s team fell one game short of reaching their first state championship game since 2013.
“Give Pendleton County all the credit in the world, they’re tough hard-nosed kids and are very well coached and disciplined,” an emotional coach Thompson said after the loss. “We struggled shooting the basketball, but we had a chance and we let one get away…I’m proud of the fight in this basketball team, but I hate it for us, especially these five seniors.”
The Wildcats won their 40th consecutive game dating back to the 2019-20 season and advanced to the Class A State Championship game on Saturday morning where they will play the winner of Man and Webster County.
Tug Valley could never find their groove shooting on the night as they finished the game 15-48 shooting from the floor, including only 2-16 from three-point range, while only having two assists as a team for the game.
The Wildcats (16-0) and the Panthers were dead even in the first eight minutes of action as the score was knotted up at 10 apiece at the end of one.
In the second quarter of play, Tug Valley took a 16-14 lead after a jumper from Caleb May with 5:41 left in the quarter. That would be the final time the Panthers would score a point in the first half however as they went ice-cold the final five plus minutes and allowed Pendleton County to take a 17-16 lead into the break.
The action never picked up in the third quarter as both teams continued to struggle to put it in the basket. The Wildcats were able to outpace the Panthers by one however as a late basket from Bailey Thompson put them back ahead at 24-22 going into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter the two teams showed a little sign of life on offense as TVHS came back to take the lead to 28-27 following a tip-in from Ethan Colegrove with 4:27 to play. The Wildcats scored the next six points however as Thompson’s got a bucket to go with 2:26 to play to give PCHS their largest lead of the game at 33-28.
The Panthers had one final run in them however as May drilled a long three and then got a runner in the lane to fall with 2:07 to play to tie the game up at 33 apiece. Tug Valley took the lead back just under a minute later as Reed sank a shot in the lane to put the silver-and-black ahead 35-33 with 1:08 to play.
After two timeouts by Pendleton County, a foul was called on Tug Valley with 19 seconds to play which sent Isaiah Gardner to the line for two shots. Gardiner sank the first to cut the Tug Valley lead to one at 35-34. The second shot came up short, but Tug Valley failed to get the defensive rebound as Wildcat center Josh Alt got the board and stuck it back in to put his team ahead 36-35 with 17 seconds to go.
Coach Thompson elected to not call a timeout and cleared out the floor on the offensive end to allow May to go to work and get to the lane. He did just that as he drive into the paint and kicked it to the corner to Reed who had an open look, but it came up short and Thompson hauled in the rebound for Pendleton County.
He hit both free-throws to push the lead to three at 38-35, and a half court heave by May came up well short at the buzzer and the Wildcats advanced to their first state championship game in school history.
“It wasn’t our defense that lost it tonight. I know that everyone is going to point to the rebound at the free-throw line there at the end that we didn’t get, but if we would have just made another a shot or two here or there in transition during the course of the game it could have got us going,” coach Thompson said. “But we just struggled. There for awhile I thought we were going to break the record for least number of points in a tournament game, but we just didn’t shoot well. And I give most of the credit for that to Pendleton County.”
May scored 20 of Tug Valley’s 35 points on the day and finished 8-22 from the floor, including 2-7 from deep. He was the only Panther to land in double figure scoring on the night. Colegrove was next with seven points and nine rebounds while Reed and Easton Davis each scored four to round out the scoring for TVHS.
Thomspon was the high point man for Pendleton as he notched 15 points and nine rebounds while Alt recorded a double-double with 12 points and 11 boards. Gardiner had seven point while Taylor Wilmer and Cole Day had two each.
Pendleton County shot 13-32 on the night good for 40 percent and did all of their damage inside as they only shot two three-pointers and made zero. They were 12-17 from the free-throw line compared to only 3-4 for Tug Valley, who settled for jump-shots more times than not.
The Panthers forced Pendleton County into 16 turnovers but were outrebounded 33 to 22 on the day.
Tug Valley will be hit hard by graduation as they will lose the services of five seniors as May, Reed, Davis, Justin Hall, and Joby Sorrell all saw their Tug Valley careers come to an end.
“I love these guys, this hurts,” coach Thompson said of what he told his seniors. “This community loves basketball; these kids were raised up since they were little to play for Tug Valley basketball. Losing hurts, I don’t know what else to tell them other than that I love them and it will be okay. Better days are ahead.”