CHARLESTON - It isn't every day that two northern panhandle squads will meet in the quarterfinals of the West Virginia boys' Basketball Tournament in Charleston.
In fact, Wednesday will be the first time it's happened.
In 2008, the WVSSAC board adopted a plan to cut the number of regions from eight per class to four and allow two teams from one section to advance. Essentially, it was aimed at getting the state's eight best teams to Charleston, even if they were next door neighbors.
Wheeling Central’s David Park, left, and Magnolia’s Mark Winters will meet again at 1 p.m. Wednesday in Charleston.
File Photo by Rick Thorp
In this case, Wheeling Central and Magnolia, who will square of four the fourth time this season at 1 p.m. Wednesday, are separated by 36 miles.
And it would figure Coach Dave Tallman and the Blue Eagles would be a part of a first like this. In 2004, Tallman had the state's No. 2 team, but was forced to play No. 1 Oak Glen in the regional final. When the Bears' Luke Sample hit a 3-pointer to send the game into overtime, then combined with Jered Gamble to score all of Oak Glen's 16 points the rest of the way, Tallman and one of his best teams were going home. It was games like that -and others -that led to today's setup.
Clearly, Tallman is in favor it, even if Game 26 will be a replay of the season opener. And Game No. 14. And Game 23. Magnolia won those three by an average score of 74-58.
That prompted the obvious from Wheeling Central coach Mel Stephens, who turned around a 5-19 squad from a season ago and has it Charleston-bound, despite giving up more points than it scored on the season.
''We're going to have to play better than the other three times we played them, that's for sure,'' Stephens said. ''It's one of those deals where we're probably going to have to play our best and hope they don't play their best.''
The Maroon Knights have rebounded from a 2-7 start, picked up yet another OVAC title, lost in the sectionals (to Magnolia), then gone on the road to beat a 19-4 St. Marys team that defends its home court as well as anyone.
Leading the Maroon Knights is a newcomer and a veteran in Chase Harler and David Park, respectively. Harler has averaged 18.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Park scores 16.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per night. Brandon Wallace won't be forgotten. He averages 7.3 points and five rebounds per game.
Magnolia, which outscored its foes by an average of 15 points per game for the season and is riding a 12-game winning streak, also has a freshman putting up big numbers in Preston Boswell (13.5 points, 5.5 assists per game), but it's Wheeling Jesuit recruit Mark Winters who packs the biggest punch for the Blue Eagles. Winters checks in at 28 points and 12 rebounds per game.
Still, Stephens thinks it would be foolish to make Winters the focus of the defense.
''The Winters kid is good,'' Stephens said. ''He's scored against us every game, but what makes them a good team as it was Boswell (with a big game the first time), then (Zach) Wilhoite, then (Stephen Rogalski) each stepped up.''
It's true. While Tallman doesn't go deep down his bench, he gets big-time production from all of his starters. Rogalski averages 11 points and three assists. Wilhoite gets 15 points and eight rebounds after tip-off. Kyle Elliott doesn't score a lot, but he's a tireless rebounder and a fine complement to the rest of these guys.
And make no mistake, these guys, who haven't lost since Jan. 19, are heading to the state's capital with every intention of bringing back a trophy.
''We're going down to really be aggressive and keep playing the way we're playing,'' Tallman said. ''Hopefully we can keep this thing going for (four or five more) days. My biggest fear is getting behind and somebody tries to slow it down. Teams have to play our style and not us play their style.
''We have to get the lead and just go after people. We've been getting out of the blocks real well. The guys understand what we're talking about.''
For the Maroon Knights, who are a clip above .500 at 13-12, the opportunity is there.
''I told our kids, we've played them three times, a total of 12 quarters,'' Stephens said. ''We've been in the game 8.5-to-9 of those quarters. That's going to be our focus.''