ALBRIGHT: Huntington St. Joe at PHS girls basketball: An epic showdown at the Fieldhouse

Parkersburg High students and PHS basketball or any basketball fans in the area mark down the Huntington St. Joe and PHS girls’ basketball match up at 7:30 p.m. Thursday as a must-watch contest.

The two best teams in the state, regardless of class, clash in what promises to be an excellent game, along with the possibility of being labeled the game of the year.

Big Reds’ Athletic Director Chris Way should strongly consider dropping the price of admission for all students to free. Opportunities to watch a cornucopia of NCAA Division I, II and III-ready athletes play on the same floor, male or female, rarely happen in the Mountain State.

An already confirmed four D-I players reside on the rosters in the Irish’s Dena Jarrells (UT-Chattanooga) and Paige Shy (Marshall), along with the Big Reds’ Shay-Lee Kirby (Austin Peay) and Madi Mace (Ohio). Another five players yet to commit, but of the same caliber, suit up in a state championship caliber contest.

As far as point guards go there is no one better in the state than Jarrells, while Shy, Kirby and Mace shoot the ball well and are even better defenders. Mace’s high ankle sprain keeps her sidelined though.

A common link between most of these players being the West Virginia Thunder Amateur Athletic Union program based out of Huntington.

“It is a big game for us and a big game for our kids because they spend a lot of time playing with each other so it is a little bit of a personal rivalry,” PHS head coach Scott Cozzens. “There are some bragging rights for the summer going to the winner as well.

“We as a staff like these games because they expose what we have to work on and it gives us time to fix them. That is why you play games like this.”

Any middle or elementary school player wishing to watch the sport played at the highest level should make sure to witness the action on Sam Mandich Floor. This will not be a let-us-work-on-fundamentals meeting but a knock-down, drag-out contest between two schools with state-championship aspirations.

Plenty has changed since these two met in a game St. Joe won by 18 points last season. Individualism marked the Big Reds against a veteran group and reigning Class A champion Irish who already triumphed over Class AA Wyoming East and top out-of-state competition.

Since then St. Joe, which has won eight of the past 10 state titles, lost its crown to Wheeling Central, but harnesses an incredible competitive fire as only one loss blemishes an otherwise sterling resume this season. North Carolina’s Westridge Academy, a group which lost by one point in overtime to National Christian Academy in the United States Prep National Basketball Championship one season ago, downed the Irish by 8 points back on Dec. 22.

Results much better than any Mountain State team has mustered to this point against the Irish. Class AAA’s Martinsburg and Morgantown, along with Wyoming East could not stay within 25 points at the sound of the final horn.

“We do have a very talented bunch and are a little more athletic than we were last season,” said Lewis. “This should be a fun game. A lot of kids are back for both teams and based on how we have been playing a lot of teams have us out in front this season. We are very familiar with each other as we run some of the same things in our offenses and defenses.”

The Big Reds story is well known by this point.

PHS captured the 2017-18 state championship and is undefeated to this point in the season. Parkersburg South played the champs to the closest game, 63-61, on Dec. 21.

An outcome the Big Reds’ latest victims, Wheeling Park and Huntington, much desire next to the 30-plus point shellackings each received in the Fieldhouse.

“We are starting to play some pretty good basketball,” said Cozzens, who sees his team becoming a true singular-unit undefined by solo acts. “We were talking this morning (Monday) and we have to clean up some things on the defensive side of the ball, but we are pretty happy where we are at this point in the season considering everything we have had to deal with in sickness, injuries and everything else.”

Staying consistent with their play will be crucial for the Big Reds to walk out with a victory. If St. Joe catches a hint of weakness, it will go for the knock-out blow. Limited come-back opportunities will be gifted to PHS.

For the more seasoned attendees, watching how Jarrells handles one of the more aggressive presses in the state should be entertaining. PHS possesses the lengthiest in-state guards she will see this year. While stealing the ball from her is a pipe dream, the Big Reds can force errant passes and a few turnovers if she can’t see where she is throwing the basketball.

Keeping tabs on Bailee Adkins, the best shooter on the floor, remains a critical staple of the Big Reds’ game plan as well. Her quick release poses problems for opponents slow to close out on her.

Adkins won’t be alone in her shooting prowess as Kirby and Bre Wilson bring long-distance ability for the Big Reds. Wilson exploded for a 7 of 10 shooting night from behind the arc in the win over the Highlanders.

For those unable to attend, I will have you covered in Friday morning’s paper. However, it won’t be the same as making noise and losing your voice watching the game live.

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.