Girls WVHIT returns for Year 2

ST. MARYS – For St. Marys, the West Virginia Hometown Invitational Tournament is a mid-season tuneup for what awaits the Blue Devils once the postseason arrives.

The defending WVHIT champions received the top seed in the big school division and will welcome Clay-Battelle in Saturday’s opening round of the 12-team field. Championship games for the big and small school divisions are set for Friday, Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at St. Marys High School.

“Clay-Battelle graduated almost everything – they are very young and they have a new coach,” St. Marys coach Howard Meeks said. “A big reason we compete in this tournament is that it gives us the opportunity to compete in a play-and-win type of format.”

While third-seeded Gilmer County will join St. Marys in the Division 1 bracket, Paden City is seeded second in the 10-member Division 2 portion of the WVHIT. Entering Wednesday’s action, the Wildcats owned a .500 record at 3-3. Their first-round opponent on Saturday is Van at home.

“We’re having a good season and the girls are playing well,” Paden City coach David Riggle said. “When I took over last year, one of the goals from the girls for the upcoming season was to win the WVHIT. They realize with the way we’re playing, that’s within our grasp.”

Doddridge County is a fourth seed in Division 2, where as many as eight schools can possibly claim the championship. That’s because ninth-seeded Valley (Fayette) and 10th-seed Montcalm can finish no higher than fifth place with the way the bracket is set up.

The same goes for seeds 9-12 (Tug Valley, Midland Trail, East Hardy and Richwood) in Division 1. Those four teams can place no higher than ninth place.

“This is year No. 2 for the girls and I’m not real happy with the brackets,” said Tygarts Valley coach Mike DiPasquale, who also serves as secretary/treasurer for the girls version of the WVHIT. “Is it fair, I don’t know, but we only had six to eight coaches decide on it during our organizational meeting.

“Next year, we want to set up a bracket for 16 of the biggest schools and play four games for each team -it gives everyone a fair shot.”

The smaller schools still would compete in another bracket.

“Another idea is to maybe have a face-to-face meeting between coaches to determine the seeds,” DiPasquale said. “Right now it is done by ballots.”

For the time being, St. Marys has the proverbial target on its back. Entering Wednesday’s games, the second-ranked Blue Devils were unbeaten at 7-0. Last year at the inaugural WVHIT for girls, they defeated Gilmer County in the championship game for the big school division.

This year’s outfit continues to experience growing pains, but last Saturday’s display in a 71-58 win at Ravenswood gave Meeks reason to believe he might have something good brewing in Pleasants County.

“We actually practiced before we played,” Meeks said. “The practice was intense for 30 minutes then we had 30 to 45 minutes of walk-throughs as well as some teaching. The irony is that the girls were calling me to ask if we could practice.”

Should St. Marys win its opener, either fifth-seed Buffalo or fourth-seed Tygarts Valley would be waiting in the semifinals. Buffalo defeated Paden City in the championship game of last year’s WVHIT small-school division, while Tygarts Valley suffered two losses last year to the Blue Devils. The second defeat occurred in the quarterfinals at the state tournament.

“We graduated our all-state point guard Shanda Howell, but we’re 5-1 and I like our chances against Buffalo,” DiPasquale said.