Boys take their turn at WVHIT

ST. MARYS -Unlike last year, the St. Marys boys basketball team would prefer a less stressful path to the West Virginia Hometown Invitational Tournament.

In their first year participating in the event, the Blue Devils’ Andrew Cosper hit an 18-footer at the buzzer to give his ballclub a victory over Buffalo in the championship game of the Division I bracket.

At the time, Buffalo was ranked No. 6 in the state and St. Marys was No. 7.

“We’ll have a hard time writing a better script,” St. Marys coach Mark Barnhart said. “Buffalo led us by nine at the half, but our guys handled it well and we made some adjustments.”

While the WVHIT girls tournament is entering its third week of competition, the boys field will debut Friday and continue into mid-February. Teams are divided into Division 1 and 2. Division 1 consists of 16 schools – eight in a South Regional and eight in a North Regional.

Clay-Battelle is seeded No. 1 in the North Regional, while Valley (Fayette) is the top seed in the South Regional. Seeded second in bottom half of the South Regional bracket is St. Marys, which carries a 4-4 record. Doddridge County is the No. 8 seed.

Coaches in the field took the Blue Devils’ strength of schedule into consideration.

“We’ve had non-conference games against Linsly and Wheeling Central, plus we’ve had to play against the North Division teams in the Little Kanawha Conference,” Barnhart said.

In six-team field in Division 2, the 6-3 Wildcats from Paden City received the top seed. Everyone in Division 2 is guaranteed two games.

“We’ve been runner-up the past two years,” Paden Coach Fred King said. “When you look at the WVHIT, it’s another opportunity to compete against schools you have never played or don’t play on a regular basis.”

The WVHIT has made great strides since its inaugural year when the entire field included 16 teams four years ago. One of its founding fathers was Tygarts Valley boys basketball coach Tom Wamsley, who continues to serve as the tournament’s vice-president.

“That first year, there were eight to 10 of us setting up at a few tables at a Shoney’s in Flatwoods for our meeting- now, we can actually rent a conference room at a local hotel,” Wamsley said. “The goal is to include every Class A public school in the state.”

The final week of the WVHIT boys event takes place at Summersville. For the mere admission fee of $5, fans can watch eight games on a Saturday. Southern West Virginia Health System serves as the tournament sponsor.

“Their financial backing took us to another level,” Wamsley said.