By Kyle Lovern
NAUGUATUCK – There is an old saying in sports “the fans got their monies worth.”
That was the case on Tuesday night at the stuffy Tug Valley High School gym where a jammed packed crowd piled in to watch the Panthers and the Miners of Mingo Central battle it out on the hardwood.
At the end of regulation, the game was still not decided and overtime was needed, in which the hometown Panthers got by the visitors 56-48.
Both teams seemed a little rusty, probably because they have not got to play as much or even practice as much because of the harsh winter weather. Each of the two regular season matchups between these two new local rivals had been postponed from earlier in the year.
Whether it was the pressure of the game, or the defense by both teams, each squad played a little sloppy and had a lot of turnovers. Tug Valley ended up with 23, while Mingo Central had 28.
“I thought that was a good win for us,” Tug Valley coach Garland “Rabbit” Thompson said. “If that wasn’t tournament atmosphere, I don’t know what is. We needed that one. I thought our kids played about as hard as they can against a county rival.”
The first quarter started out physical with a couple of hard fouls that set the tone for the game. Tug Valley led at the end of the first quarter 16-7, much to the delight of the home crowd.
But the Miners fought back, despite 12 first half turnovers, and actually took the lead at 22-21heading into the dressing room.
With 8.1 seconds left in the half, Mingo Central guard Stevie Hammond stole the ball and raced down the floor on the fast break passing off to Dikembe Dixson for a layup. He was fouled and completed the old-fashioned 3-point play to give his team the lead.
Dixson had 10 first half points to lead the Miners, while Calvin Blankenship fired in a couple of early 3-pointers to lead the Panthers with 6 points. Alex “Booger” Lee had 5 points for the Miners, but had to sit out part of the second quarter due to foul trouble.
The third quarter continued to be a battle. Tug Valley got back to back baskets by Hayden Sturgell to take a 25-24 lead. A Thomas Baisden layup gave the Panthers a 6-0 run, but at the end of that period the score remained tied at 31-31.
As the fourth quarter got started, the Miners got a layup from Lee and Dixson broke away for a slam dunk to give MCHS a 35-31 lead at the 5:30 mark.
Shortly afterward, Lee picked up his 4th foul, and had to sit out again. Lee would soon foul out, which definitely hurt the Miners low post game.
“It was a battle tonight, we just came up a little on the short end,” Mingo Central head coach Brad Napier said. “I felt pretty good for most of the game. When Alex fouled out, that created a little bit of a problem. Then Dalton (Hatfield) got hurt. We didn’t have another player to put out there that knew Alex’s position. That may it tough for us to run anything with the smaller lineup.”
“It’s hard two lose to guys like that consecutively,” Napier added. Hatfield went out with a head injury and sat on the bench with an ice pack.
Tug hit a couple of free throws and then Blankenship hustled for a loose ball and drove the length of the floor for a layup to tie it at 37 all.
Dixson hit a shot in the lane to make it 39-37, but then Blankenship made two free throws to tie it again.
Tug Valley had the ball with about a minute to go in regulation, but was unable to get off a good shot.
Mingo Central took over possession of the basketball, and after a timeout, gave the ball to Dixson who drove down the lane. He was called for a charging foul and the Panthers had one more chance.
The game of cat and mouse continued between the coaches as they called timeouts in an effort to set up a good offensive play for the win. Tug Valley got one more chance to win the game, but they couldn’t convert and the heated contest went into overtime.
Tug Valley came out and quickly got 1-of-2 foul shots from Thomas Baisden. Then Blankenship, only a sophomore, had ice water in his veins and swished four more from the free throw line. Then Sturgell made a couple of big free throws.
The Panthers went on an 8-0 run to take a 48-40 lead. From that point, the closest Mingo would get was within 5 points and the Tug Valley fans went home happy.
“I thought Hayden made a couple of big foul shots in overtime,” Thompson said. “We were settled down in overtime and were not as helter-skelter as we were during much of the game. We had good ball movement. Calvin made some big free throws and it was just a good win.”
Both coaches thought their squads could have been a little rusty due to the postponements and even being able to get their players out for practices.
Blankenship led TVHS with 17 points, including 7-of-9 at the charity stripe and 6 rebounds. Thomas Baisden had another double-double with 15 points and 10 boards, Sturgell finished with 9 points and Aaron Copley 8. Kyle Newsome and Sturgell each had 3 assists.
Dixson finished with 26 points for MCHS and he pulled down 11 rebounds. Lee had 9 points and 7 boards.
“Dixson is a handful,” Thompson said. “We tried to keep him out on the perimeter.”
The Miners were 15-58 from the floor for 26 percent, including 2-3 from 3 point range. They were 16-23 at the foul line for 70 percent.
Tug Valley was 18-53 from the floor, including 2-13 from behind the arc. They were 18-26 at the foul line for 69 percent.
Mingo Central did not have much time to rest. They traveled to Putnam County Wednesday night to take on No. 2 in Class AA Poca, then headed back up Corridor G to take on Sissonville. The Miners will play 7 games in 8 days due to all of the recent postponements. They play at Scott Friday and host Tolsia on Saturday for Senior Night. On Monday the Miners travel to Wayne for another Cardinal Conference makeup game.
Mingo Central plays every night this week. “Let’s hope all of them aren’t this physical or that tough, but they probably will be. I told these kids before the game that we need to use these next seven games for practice to get ready for the tournament. We are just going to try to get better and that is our main goal,” Napier concluded.
Tug Valley will host Valley of Fayette on Friday and it will be Senior Night for the Panthers.
The two teams will have a rematch next Tuesday, Feb. 25 up on the mountaintop campus of MCHS. The Panthers then have a big regular season finale hosting Greater Beckley Christian on Thursday, Feb. 27 at 6 p.m.
Score by quarters:
Mingo Central (9-8) - 7 15 9 8 9 - 48
Tug Valley (12-5) – 16 5 10 8 17 – 56
Mingo Central (48) – M. May 4, S. Hammond 2, D. Hatfield 2, A. Lee 9, C. Hatfield 5, D. Dixson 26.
Tug Valley (56) – K. Newsome 0, A. Copley 8, H. Sturgell 9, S. Marcum 2, A. Baisden 5, C. Blankenship 17, T. Baisden 15.
(Kyle Lovern is the Sports Editor for the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at email@example.com or at 304-235-4242, ext. 33 or Twitter @KyleLovern)