Prep Notebook: Irish girls set sights on 5-peat in Class A
March 8, 2008, is a day that Huntington St. Joe fans, former players and coaches will never forget.
The Irish girls basketball team was just eight minutes from celebrating its first girls basketball state championship.
Then, it happened.
Wheeling Central stormed back in the fourth quarter and limited the Irish to just three points to earn a 41-37 win and deny Huntington St. Joe of its title.
While that loss ended a dream season in bitter fashion, it was the start of something much bigger for Huntington St. Joe girls basketball.
It instilled in the team a pain deep enough that none of the returning players ever wanted to feel it again.
The returning players for that 2008-09 season have since graduated, but they passed on the lessons learned in that loss to each team that follows.
That lesson? Don't be the team that suffers another loss like that.
It has been taken to heart as the Irish are now looking for their fifth-consecutive Class A state title.
In fact, they haven't lost to an in-state opponent since that game.
Here's a little perspective on it.
At the time of that loss, there wasn't a single St. Joe starter that was even eligible for middle school basketball. Four of the five starters were in sixth grade and freshman guard Mychelle Johnson was in the fourth grade.
At the time of that loss, my daughter Kyra hadn't celebrated her first birthday yet. She is now in Kindergarten and missing all of her front teeth after losing her two bottom ones over the weekend.
If the past week is any indication of what is to come, don't expect 2013 to be the year where the streak is broken.
Huntington St. Joe started last week with a resounding 60-41 win over Ashland in which the defense took center stage and limited a powerful attack for the Kittens to just 15 points in the second half.
They followed on Wednesday by breaking the century mark in a 104-64 win over Williamstown. The game featured a 40-point first quarter for the Irish and an advantage that reached 66 points before head coach Shannon Lewis rested his starters.
The week ended on Saturday with a 63-49 road win over Class AAA No. 7 Parkersburg South, who had won nine of 10 going into the game.
On Monday, the Irish are in Washington, D.C. taking on Potters House Christian (Fla.) in Jam Fest before returning for their opening matchup in sectionals on Wednesday against the Wahama-Hannan winner.
It is on that day when the official second season begins for Huntington St. Joe.
And they are going to do 'whatever it takes' -- the team's motto -- to ensure the 2012-13 season ends like the previous four.
CLASS AAA UP FOR GRABS: The race in Class AAA girls is wide open this season with no clear-cut frontrunner as the postseason starts.
Two of the state's best teams made their statements over the weekend as Spring Valley's girls drubbed Parkersburg 82-51 in the MSAC Consolation Game while Huntington High earned the MSAC girls championship with a 72-51 win over George Washington.
While there are aspirations of a state title, merely getting out of the section is going to be a tough task.
In the sectional seeding done by the region's coaches, Cabell Midland, who received top-10 votes throughout the year, was seeded fourth out of five teams, meaning they will take on Lincoln County in the play-in game.
That also means a sectional semifinal matchup with top-seed Spring Valley is likely. Earlier this year, Spring Valley and Cabell Midland went to overtime in a contest the Knights feel they should have won.
The other sectional semifinal is also intriguing with Huntington High meeting Logan.
The Wildcats, who did not play Cabell Midland in the regular season, were voted over the Knights by the coaches, based on the team's win over Huntington High earlier this year.
In that contest, Logan trailed by 22 points at halftime before catching fire from 3-point range to earn a 56-55 road win over the Highlanders.
This section is not the only section across the state with lots of parody.
Five of the top 10 teams in Class AAA are in Region I and only two representatives will move on to the state level.
Those teams include Section 2 members University (No. 4 in state), Morgantown (No. 5 in state) and Preston (No. 10) while Section 1 includes Parkersburg South (No. 7), Wheeling Park (No. 9) and Parkersburg (received top-10 votes).
MSAC HONORS: On Saturday, Spring Valley players were named champions in two of the skills competitions at the MSAC Night of Champions.
Austin Keyser won the free throw competition, hitting 56 of his 60 attempts in the three rounds. He then defeated Winfield's Haeley Moore, the girls champion, to be crowned as the overall winner.
Greg Herbert took down the 3-point competition after getting into a rhythm in the second round and hitting nine in a row in one stretch. In the day's most exciting skills battle, Herbert outlasted Princeton's McKenzie Akers, a Marshall signee and girls 3-point champion, in the battle of the sexes by one point as Akers final shot fell off the rim.
Two of the three dunk finalists were also from the area in Huntington High's Arick Nicks and Spring Valley's Jacob Kilgore.
Spring Valley's Bo Miller was named MSAC Co-Coach of the Year for girls basketball along with Saint Albans' Scott James.
Grant Traylor is a sports writer for The Herald-Dispatch. He can be reached by phone at (304) 526-2759 or by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter (@GrantTraylor).