NAUGATUCK — The Tug Valley Panthers were all set to host Gilmer County in the Class A Region 4 Final this past week, but the Titans had to cancel at the last minute due to a COVID-19 exposure and Tug Valley automatically advanced to this week’s Class A State Tournament.
Head coach Garland “Rabbit” Thompson’s club last took the court on Thursday, April 22 when they shocked No. 1 Man 53-50 in the sectional championship after Joby Sorrell drilled a buzzer-beater three.
Despite winning the sectional title over the Hillbillies, the Panthers (12-2) were voted as the No. 2 seed in the Class A field while Man (13-2) was tabbed as the No. 1 seed.
The silver-and-black will take the court at the Charleston Coliseum in the quarterfinal round on Tuesday at approximately 1 p.m. against No. 7 seed Cameron (12-4).
If the Panthers beat the Dragons, they will advance to the semifinals at Thursday at 11:15 a.m. and play the winner of No. 3 seed Pendleton County (15-0) and No. 6 seed Greenbrier West (11-7).
Man will face No. 8 seed Tucker County (12-5) and will advance to the semifinals with a win on Thursday at 7:15 p.m. against the winner of No. 4 seed Webster County (11-6) and No. 5 seed Clay Battelle (15-2).
The Class A State Championship game is scheduled for Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m.
The Panthers, who enter the state tournament winners of seven straight games, have four players averaging double-figures and are led by senior point guard Caleb May.
May was voted First Team All-State as a junior and has carried that success over into this season as he enters the state tourney averaging 23.7 points per game.
May has shot 85 percent from the free-throw line and 35 percent from three-point range in 2021 while also averaging a team best five assists and two steals per game.
Combine May with backcourt mate Ian Reed and the pair create arguably the top guard duo in all of Class A. Reed is averaging 11.2 points per game and four assists while also notching 1.5 steals a game. He has also shot 35 percent from three range on the season and sits at 81 percent from the charity-stripe.
Junior 6’4” center Ethan Colegrove is the team’s second leading scorer with an average of 14 points per game while also grabbing down a team best nine rebounds per contest. Colegrove has shot 50 percent from the field this season, including 41 percent from three.
Senior 6’5” forward Easton Davis joins Colegrove to create a formidable pair in the Panther frontcourt. Davis averages 11.4 points per game to go along with 5.5 rebounds and is shooting a blistering 66 percent from the field this season.
Senior Justin Hall rounds out the starting five and has turned into an extremely important piece on both ends of the floor for the Panthers. He averages 6 points and five rebounds per game and has made 11-18 threes on the season, good for an impressive 61 percent.
Hall also typically draws the task of guarding the opposing team’s top scorer when he is on the floor, which is a stat that typically goes unnoticed in the box score.
Sorrell rounds out the six-man rotation for the Panthers and enters the tournament averaging 4 points per game but hit the biggest shot of the Tug Valley season the last time they took the court against Man. Sorrell has hit 41 percent of his three-point shots on the season and typically guards Hall’s man when he heads to the bench.
Coach Thompson returns to floor of the Charleston Coliseum for the first time since 2015. He led Tug Valley to back-to-back state championships in 2012 and 2013 during his first stint and has guided the Panthers to a 177-65 record, seven state tournament appearances, and seven sectional titles in 10 years on the sidelines.
The Panthers are owners of three championships in total, as they defeated Bluefield in the Class AA title game for the school’s first state title in 1999.