PHS, South one win from the big dance

Photo by Tyler Bennett Parkersburg’s Sam Potts goes up for a shot over the challenge of Cabell Midland’s Jake Edwards in a regular-season game. Potts and the Big Reds welcome the Knights tonight for a regional co-final.

PARKERSBURG — It’s win or go home time for Class AAA basketball programs across the Mountain State as regional co-finals are set for 7 p.m. today.

If Parkersburg High School head coach Jeff Mennillo’s squad is going to reach the big dance next week in Charleston, the Big Reds will have to accomplish something they haven’t done all season long — win consecutive games.

Thanks to a late driving lay-in by Jake Johnson, the 6-17 Big Reds managed to outlast rival Parkersburg South on Friday night, 49-48. That triumph allowed the red and white to play host this evening inside Memorial Fieldhouse to No. 8 Cabell Midland, which lost the Class AAA, Region IV, Section 2 title versus Spring Valley, 50-48.

“I got a lot of conflicting thoughts about playing them,” admitted Mennillo, who watched Kionte Peacock drain eight 3s en route to a career-high 30 points when the Big Reds bested the visiting Knights (17-7) in late January, 64-60. “I feel like we are probably a whole lot better now than we were when we beat them.

“I’m sure they are better too, but we were just in the beginning stages of changes we made when we played them. We’ve been at it for six-plus weeks now. I feel like we’ve gotten exponentially better.”

After falling behind 22-12 after a quarter in the sectional final to Parkersburg South, which will carry a 7-16 record into tonight’s regional co-final at Spring Valley (14-10), the Big Reds limited the Patriots to a combined 10 points in the second and fourth quarters.

“I feel like we are playing a little bit better defense now than we were at anytime during the year,” Mennillo added. “I feel like defensively we are playing at a high level. I think we are better off than we’ve been all year. Playing at home, I think our kids have some confidence.”

When asked about trying to get his team focused on CMHS and forgetting about the sectional win, the coach was quick to point out he believes his team has turned a corner.

“To be truthful, I think they’ve switched,” Mennillo added of going into another gear. “I think they viewed beating South as just part ‘A’ of a two-part problem. I don’t think they looked at it and said to themselves we want to beat South and they are basking in the glow.”

Johnson led the way for the Big Reds against South with 13 points while teammate Jacob McKnight tallied his dozen all after the break. Dylan Shaver pitched in nine points and Peacock had eight.

“I think most of the time when you say it’s a brand new season, I think most people say that but don’t really believe it,” Mennillo continued. “As a high school coach I’ve probably said it a lot of times and not really believed it. At the end of the day this team is truly an exception.

“We followed last year’s model and found out after about eight games last year’s model wasn’t going to work with this group of guys. They never accepted being a bad basketball team and they work really hard to improve each day.”

Although it would take winning a state championship for the Big Reds to crack the 10-win plateau, PHS just wants to get to seven victories first.

“We could’ve been 14-7 or 14-8 and people been talking about us playing well,” noted Mennillo. “Instead, we are 6-17 and we are not going to apologize for that record. We earned it all, but we are a different group now than we were then.

“That can’t be stated enough. This group of guys have grown into a pretty solid basketball team. People will call it an upset and a shocking win, but I’ll be shocked and surprised if we don’t get it.”

Despite falling to the Big Reds and getting a game-high 21 points from Seth Fallon, a baker’s dozen by Brayden Mooney and nine by Jake Dennis, the Patriots will have to avenge an 82-72 setback to the Timberwolves they suffered two days after Christmas inside the Rod Oldham Athletic Center in order to reach state.

“It was one of the things we told the kids. As bad as last night (Friday) stinks, you got to forget about it,” said PSHS ninth-year head coach Mike Fallon, who is trying to lead the Patriots to a seventh consecutive state tournament berth. “We still have a chance to do what we set out to do.

“Playing a team we already played before helps, too. We aren’t going in blind. We kind of know about them and that helps a bunch. They still run a lot of the same sets they ran before. It just boils down to putting the ball in the basket. We scored 22 points in the first (against PHS) and then 26 in the other three quarters.”