By Steve Keenan
For The Register-Herald
In front of a friendlier crowd, the Valley Greyhounds will entertain Tug Valley at 7 p.m. tonight in Smithers in a Class A Region 3 basketball co-final, with the winner landing a state tournament berth.
The two teams squared off on Feb. 21 in Naugatuck, with the Panthers squeaking by, 42-39.
“Tug Valley’s a tough place to play,” said Valley coach Joe McCoy.
While the Panthers have won two straight state championships (Class A last year and Class AA in 2011-12), the Greyhounds will be seeking their first boys state tournament appearance since the 2003-04 season. That year, coach Joby Groom’s team advanced to Charleston, beating Parkersburg Catholic in the quarterfinals and losing to Wheeling Central in the semifinals to close with a 19-7 record.
In recent section play, Tug Valley (17-6) beat Sherman 74-45 and lost to Greater Beckley Christian 49-37, the latter in the Section 1 final.
To get to the co-final and secure home-court advantage, Valley (21-3) defeated Richwood 57-51 and Meadow Bridge 68-32 in Section 2.
On the heels of dismantling the Wildcats in the championship game, McCoy says his Greyhounds are ready for Wednesday’s challenge.
“They know what’s on the line,” he said. “We need to play the first quarter with a lot of energy and intensity.
“I think it’s going to be a good basketball game. It’s going to be physical and intense, and the crowd’s going to be in it. It will be a great basketball atmosphere.”
Valley will be led into action by a starting lineup that includes sophomore Zac Warden (17 points and 10 rebounds a game), sophomore Henry Barron-Houchins (14 points, six assists and four steals), senior Raeshawn Breckenridge (11 points, seven rebounds and six assists), sophomore Druw Bowen (11 points and 10 rebounds) and senior Keyshawn Payne (six points). Key reserves include senior Donte Wilkerson and freshman Tracy Conliffe.
Tug Valley was led this season by senior Thomas Baisden (18.9 ppg), sophomore Calvin Blankenship (14.2 ppg) and junior Hayden Sturgell (11.2 ppg).
Against Tug Valley this time around, Breckenridge says, “We just have to play better defense and make our easier shots.”
“They rebounded better against us last time,” he added.
Breckenridge admits to being nervous. “I’m glad it’s at Valley and we don’t have to travel,” he said.
A key cog in Valley’s recent state baseball tournament and football playoff success, Breckenridge hopes to see that trend continue in basketball.
“I’m just glad I’m having a good senior year, going 10-0 in football and everything,” he said. “It would be really good to go (to the state playoffs) in basketball, too.”
“We have to get more physical and control the boards more,” Payne said, “and get the ball down to the big men.”
Payne, a standout member of the 2013 Greyhound football team, would love to see a win tonight. “I’m real excited to play to try to get to Charleston,” he said. “It would be really big for us.”
He credits “good athletes, good teammates and good chemistry” for the Greyhounds’ recent successes. “It’s been a lot more fun.”