PARKERSBURG - When it came to boys basketball in the Little Kanawha Conference, there was no question it was quite the season for Gilmer County and head coach Steve Shuff.
The Titans not only won the LKC Night of Champions crown for the first time in school history, but league coaches voted senior guard Austin Cunningham as the Player of the Year.
"You can look at his 18 points and nine rebounds a game, but the thing that changed us this year to being a team that was fortunate enough to win the LKC championship was his leadership skills," Shuff said of Cunningham, who started the year by hitting a 30-foot buzzer-beater to knock off Roane County in Glenville.
Photo by Jay W. Bennett
Gilmer County’s Austin Ratliff, left, and Austin Cunningham were both selected to the first team of the all-Little Kanawha Conference boys basketball squad. Cunningham was honored as the LKC Player of the Year.
"Last year he was hesitant to be that leader and this year he took it by the horns and was one of the better leaders I've had the opportunity to coach. I truly believe that changed our basketball team."
The Titans finished the season 18-7 and advanced to the regional before being eliminated one win short of Charleston. Cunningham, a second team all-LKC honoree a year ago, was actually a first team selection as a sophomore.
"He's a very smart young man and a 4.0 student," Shuff said of Cunningham, who started 79 consecutive games, knocked down 61 3s this year to go along with nearly three assists and two steals an outing. "He was not only important to our basketball team, but he was important to our entire athletic program.
"To take that a step further, he was important for our school because of the type of young man that he is. I can say without a doubt he's at the very top of the list of character young men I've coached."
Roane County's Jacob Neal, who averaged 20-plus points and nearly 10 boards a game, was runner-up for POY honors. Cunningham, Neal, Parkersburg Catholic's Joe Padden (17 ppg), Wirt County's Kalob Bell (25 ppg) and Ravenswood's Jake Martin (22 ppg)- all seniors - were repeat all-LKC first team selections.
Gilmer County junior point guard Austin Ratliff, who averaged 13 points and led the Titans in assists (4.2) and steals (3.3), secured a spot on the first unit.
"It's the first time I've had two kids on the first team and that was an honor," Shuff added. "Austin Ratliff was very deserving.
"He's the most athletic point guard I've ever coached. I think he's a kid, and I've told him this, he's a kid next year who can be in that player of the year discussion."
Two other 12th-graders earned first team accolades in Braxton County's Cody Hilton (15 ppg) and Calhoun County's Ryan Slider, who averaged 15 points and nearly 11 boards a game.
Williamstown sophomore Landon Travis (17 ppg) and Yellowjacket junior teammate Gage Wix (15 ppg) were also joined on the first team by St. Marys junior Jessy Moore (16 ppg) and South Harrison 11th-grader Zak Wentz (15 ppg).