The Magnolia Blue Eagles overcame a Ravenswood Red Devil slow down and having two star players out of the lineup to prevail 37-35 to earn their third straight state tournament birth. It all happened before a jam-packed Blue Eagle "white out" crowd at the MHS HammerDome March 8.
The victory was a happy moment in what has been a very difficult week for Head Coach Dave Tallman and his family. Tallman's father passed away March 4 following a long illness and was laid to rest March 7, the day before the game. "My mom (Joretta) was up there in the stands wearing all white like everyone else," stated Tallman after the game. "This one was for her and the win against Weir was for my dad.
"It's not enough to just go down there. I was 9-0 in Charleston before we lost the last three times. We really want to go in there and play well. We want to win that first game. This team is very capable of doing so."
Ravenswood opened the game with two freebies at the charity line because of an infraction in the scorebook, but cashed in on only one of two penalty shots to grab the lead.
The Eagles' Mark "Special K" Winters stole the ball during a Ravenswood stall, but missed his shot at a deuce. Ravenswood turned the ball over on a player control foul and Tyler Myers drained a three pointer from the corner for Magnolia's first score.
After Nick Blatt blocked a shot, he picked up a foul to send Ravenswood to the charity stripe where they converted only one of two shots. Off the miss, Magnolia quickly hit another triple, this one from by Stephen "Rogo" Rogalski.
Blatt later swatted away another Red Devil shot that led to a Ravenswood time out. After the short break, Ravenswood would cash in on a long bomb. But, Drew Keller matched that with a triple of his own to put Magnolia up 9-5 late in the first.
Blatt swatted away a third Red Devil shot and Keller made his third steal, too. But Magnolia couldn't capitalize on either, while Ravenswood missed a shot at the buzzer.
The Red Devils began the second period in stall mode, passing it as many as 40 times, as documented by the MHS student body. But only to miss a shot or have the basketball stolen or otherwise turned over to the Blue Eagles.
Winters scored at will from the paint. Meanwhile, the quick hands of Rogalski and Keller caused countless turnovers, while Blatt, Winters, and Campbell guarded the paint.
After the third Ravens-wood time out, Magnolia would call one and set up a nice give-and-go from Winters to Campbell that pushed Magnolia to a ten-point lead - its largest of the game. However, the Red Devils would connect on a threeball and go into the locker room down, 20-13.
In the third period, each team netted seven points. Ravenswood hit two buckets inside, while Magnolia scored on another Myers' threeball and Winters netted a basket and drained a pair of free throws.
In the fourth period, Ravenswood scored a bucket and would make a pair of free throws to draw to within four points, 30-26. However, they would turn the ball over three straight times, only to have the Eagles give it right back.
Winters scored two buckets, with the last one a driving lay up, to give the Eagles a little breathing room. However, Ravenswood wouldn't go down easy and answered with a basket from beyond the arc to cut the lead to five points. After a Magnolia turnover, Ravenswood got an old-fashioned three-point play to make thing interesting with 28 seconds to go in regulation. Campbell put back a Magnolia miss to nail the coffin shut. Winters paced the Big Blues with a team-high 15 points and grabbed six boards, while Campbell netted seven markers and accounted for three offensive rebounds. Myers, Rogalski, and Drew Keller each scored six points. Blatt failed to score, but he did swat away four shots and pulled down five rebounds.
The Magnolia Blue Eagles will go into the state tournament as the fifth seed and will play the fourth-seeded Tolsia Rebels at 9 p.m. at the Charleston Civic Center. Fans are asked to wear gold for this game.
If the Blue Eagles win, they will play at 1 p.m. Friday, March 16, against either the number one seed, Bluefield, or number eight Berkley Springs.
The class-AA championship game is scheduled for noon Saturday.