By Dave Morrison
It was not bad enough Oak Hill’s Fred Ferri had to come up with a way to beat Wyoming East, a true titan in Class AA at the time, and a team had beaten the Red Devils three times already during the 2010 season in four meetings, twice by 20.
Now Ferri had a new problem.
“We had a shoot-around at the school Saturday morning (only a handful of hours from the Noon state championship game in Charleston) and there was a Social Studies fair setting up,” Ferri said. “I knew the guy in charge. I said, ‘Just give me a half court for one hour. One hour and we will be gone. He did and we went over our scouting report one more time.”
Amidst the poster and projects, the Red Devils assembled the plan that would help them knock off Wyoming East 55-45 and achieve a bit of a historical footnote of their own.
Friday was the 10th anniversary of the first time two sectional opponents played for a state championship. It was the first time a team lost in the sectional championship but rebounded to win a state championship.
Only the year before West Virginia’s governing body, the Secondary School Activities Commission, had gone from eight to four regions. The top two teams in each section advanced to the final, with the two champions hosting the loser from the opposite side.
Ironically, Ferri was a member of the committee – eight coaches, eight athletic directors, eight principals – that presented the measure.
Then, and even now, there are detractors. Many said the Red Devils should have been eliminated. Under the previous plan the postseason was a one-and-done proposition.
“After that game, no I didn’t like it at all,” said former Wyoming East coach Rory Chapman, in his first year as head coach at his alma mater, after replacing Jesse Lester. “To a lot of people, and I was one of them, it didn’t seem right that you can lose in a sectional tournament and keep playing. But in 2016 we benefited from it when we lost to Westside in the sectional tournament. So, I can see both sides of it. I do think it was better than what we had before.”
Ferri said the plan did not come without detractors, many within the 24-person committee.
“There were people who said, “How can you lose and continue to play?” Ferri said. “We’d been used to one way of doing things. But our goal was to have the best teams in Charleston. We felt like if you were good enough to go on the road and win a regional championship game, then you earned a chance to go to Charleston.”
Hence, the all-Region 3 championship game between familiar foes, and a decade ago one of the best rivalries in the area, and, for a short time, the state.
For all the talk about Westside and Wyoming East being one of the best rivalry games in the state, Oak Hill and Wyoming East was better.
“Without a doubt,” Chapman said. “Every one of those games was packed out (with fans), every game was like a tournament atmosphere and both teams were really good. I never had to talk to my kids to get them ready for this game.”
The year before, Oak Hill had gotten to the semifinals, falling in Ravenswood in a game that went right down to the wire, Ravenswood holding on after a late Oak Hill turnover cost it a chance to pull the upset.
Wyoming East, playing in its fourth straight championship game, was a perennial tournament contender, two years removed from back-o-back titles.
The players were at another level in Region 3 at that time. From that game, seven players made the all-state tournament team – four from Wyoming East (Andrew Bishop, Chase Morgan, Evan Muscari and Marcus Schofield) and three from Oak Hill (Kalif Wright, Deondre Leonard and Jack Flournoy).
While there was mutual respect between the coaching staffs, the schools generally did not like another, which adds to the rivalry.
“At the Armory we got beat twice by 20 (and) we kept on hearing their mouth over, and over and over,” Leonard said after the championship game. “We just had to come out and make a statement today.”
Indeed Wyoming East had the upper hand in the season series, winning three of four meetings between the two prior to the championship game.
The Warriors won at home on Jan. 12, 70-64. They also won those two games at the Armory, 71-51 in the Big Atlantic Classic (Feb. 6) and the 60-36 in the Section 1 championship (March.6). Oak Hill’s lone win was 55-51 at Oak Hill Feb. 19. If it seemed that the two played every other week, they almost did, and 20 percent of their respective schedule was played against one another.
“I always got along great with Rory, there was a respect between the programs and the coaching staffs,” Ferri said. “You always knew you were in for a game playing those guys.”
No. 2 seed Oak Hill advanced to the championship game by blowing out Keyser 63-38 on a Wednesday afternoon and then Weir 61-45 on a Friday morning.
No. 1 seed Wyoming East, playing on the other side of the bracket, beat Frankfort 69-51 on Wednesday evening and then edged Tug Valley in overtime 67-63.
That set the stage for the first sectional state tournament showdown.
“I don’t think we were coming in overconfident because we knew how good they were,” Chapman said. “Like I said, I never had to talk to my guys because we knew how good they were.”
The first half was bogged down and Wyoming East led 22-13 at the half with Webb and Muscari both hitting some big 3s.
“We didn’t play well in the first half,” Ferri said. “I told our kids at the half, ‘Listen, you’re getting good shots and they are going to start to fall.”
Muscari, who led the Warriors with 21 points, hit another early in the third and Wyoming East led 27-13.
That is when Oak Hill did start knocking down shots. And quickly.
Oak Hill, which had four points since the end of the first quarter, got revved up behind Leonard and role player Kyle Colon. On the final play of the third quarter, Leonard got the ball near half court with his back to his basket, spun around and almost without looking, fired a pass to sophomore Jack Flournoy, streaking toward the basket, and he slammed it home to give Oak Hill its first lead, 32-31.
It was an 18-4 run that soon became 27-4 in the fourth and a Colon steal and layup finished it and gave Oak Hill a 40-31 lead with 6:43 remaining.
“In the fourth quarter, when we started having to press (and overplay the ball) they were able to get behind us for a couple of slam dunks,” Chapman said. “I don’t think we allowed them more than one slam in any game that season and they got two there on us and the end. That’s Charleston for you. It does some strange things to your offense sometimes.”
Thomas Booth, better known for his all-state soccer career, hit three of four free throws to help keep Wyoming East, trying to make a comeback of its own, from getting over the hump.
A decade later, Chapman said that Oak Hill role players were the difference, specifically Colon.
“We knew about him, he was in our scout, but he really played the game of his life that day,” Chapman. “We wanted to go hold Kalif Wright under 20 and we did (he had a team-high 15) but their role players were outstanding and really were the difference in the game in my opinion.”
For Oak Hill, the emphasis was on keeping shooter and leading scorer Chase Morgan from driving.
He had a 3 in the first quarter but was Held in check the rest of the game.
“Chase was a lefty and he was good as going to the basket from the left and they would would put Webb on the left side baseline,” Ferri said. “We wanted to help on him, keep him from getting to the basket and if he kicked to Webb and he made 3s, and he was an outstanding shooter, so be it.”
Leonard had 14 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and seven steals.
That night Oak Hill returned home state champions, getting a parade through town and a reception at the school, where the social studies fair had ended. After that, Ferri said he and some of the players returned to Charleston for the Logan-Wheeling Park Class AAA championship game.
Chapman said the season was still memorable for the Warriors, who went on to earn berths in several sttate tournaments.
“It was my first season (as head coach) and we never made it back to the championship game,” he said. “We only lost to Logan, the triple-A champion and Oak Hill the double-A champion, twice. We had some great teams along the way. Even though we walked off the floor losing that game to Oak Hill, I would not have traded that team for anybody else.”
Oak Hill would go on to win the 2011 state title. When you add the back-to-back titles Wyoming East won in 2007-2008 with the back-to-back Bluefield championships in 2013-14 it gave Region 3 an unprecedented run of six titles by three different teams in eight years.