Big Reds put up good fight, fall to Huntington in regional

Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch Huntington's Mikal Dawson (22) attempts to dribble past Parkersburg's Seth Dailey (2) in the Class AAA, Region IV boys basketball co-final on Tuesday, March 6, 2018, at Huntington High School.

HUNTINGTON — Huntington knew Tuesday’s meeting with Parkersburg would not be anything like the 27-point win in the opening weekend of the regular season.

The Highlanders expected a dogfight and that’s exactly what they got from the Big Reds.

In the end, though, Huntington got key plays from several different players to earn a 48-42 win against the Big Reds in a Class AAA Region IV co-final.

The win gives HHS its sixth consecutive trip to the state tournament, which begins next week at Charleston Civic Center. The sixth-seeded Highlanders will take on No. 3 George Washington at 7:15 p.m. next Thursday.

“I can’t begin to tell you how tough it is to get there six years in a row,” Huntington coach Ron Hess said. “First, you have to have great kids that are outstanding players and you have to have an outstanding coaching staff, which I’ve been blessed to have over these years.”

With less than a minute left, Huntington was clinging to a two-point advantage, but the Big Reds had momentum following a pair of free throws and a crucial block from Brenton Strange.

Parkersburg (13-12) got into its offensive set and got the ball to Parker Miller down low in the post against Huntington’s Jadon Hayes, but Hayes pulled the rug on him, which forced Miller into an off-balance layup that hit the underside of the rim.

Hayes corralled the rebound — one of two pivotal rebounds for the 5-foot-9 guard down the stretch — and proceeded to hit the first two of four free throws in the final minute as the Highlanders salted the game away.

While the experience of Hayes and fellow senior Mikal Dawson were critical for the win, it was the play of Bryce Damous in the fourth quarter down low and the ice in the veins of freshman Amare Smith that helped the team get over the hump.

With the game knotted at 38 and less than 3 minutes on the clock, Smith took a cross-court feed from Dawson and buried a 3 to give the Highlanders the lead for good.

After a pair of free throws by Strange trimmed the lead to one again, Damous took a feed inside and kicked out to Andrew Shull for a 3 that gave the Highlanders their first two-possession lead since the middle of the second quarter.

In addition to Smith’s performance, Damous and Dawson each added 10 points and eight rebounds.

HHS led by 12 early in the second quarter following a pair of 3s from Dawson and Smith that capped a 17-2 run over a 5-minute stretch of the first half.

However, Smith’s 3 with 5:55 left in the second quarter were the final points of the half for the Highlanders as PHS ripped off a 15-0 run to close the half with a 24-21 lead.

Miller was the catalyst in the first half, scoring 12 points on 5 of 6 shooting from the floor. He finished with a team-high 14 points, but was limited to just one field goal in the second half as the Highlanders used a combination of 2-3 zone and Hayes guarding him man-to-man to limit him.

Strange finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.