HHS wills itself to title
CHARLESTON -- With just six minutes left in Saturday's Class AAA Championship, Huntington High trailed by eight and things looked bleak as the offense had struggled to find its rhythm against Hurricane's pressure.
There was a familiar feeling in the pit of the stomach of seniors Nick Tubbs and Arick Nicks -- one that they certainly weren't happy to have.
It was the feeling of a championship game disappointment like they had experienced in December when they fell to Martinsburg in the Class AAA football title game.
That loss was something the two had discussed prior to the game, so with time winding down and the game on the line, they decided there was no chance they were going to experience that twice in one year.
"We were in the locker room telling each other that we weren't going to fall short again like we did in football," Nicks said. "We just got our heads together because I was aggravated the whole game. You could tell. We got our stuff together and came out with a W."
After trailing by eight early in the fourth quarter, the Highlanders had brought the game to a 54-all tie, but Hurricane had possession and was playing for a final shot.
That's when the 6-4, 240-pound Nicks showed his quick hands and feet, stepping in to steal the ball from Hurricane's Henry Sorsaia to give Huntington High possession.
Following a timeout, Huntington High set up an in-bounds play to get a final shot. Tavian Dunn-Martin had the hot hand and so the Highlander coaches wanted to bring him off a screen from Nicks. The anticipated thought was that Hurricane's defense would step toward Dunn-Martin, allowing Nicks to break toward the rim.
Nicks did exactly that and Tubbs lofted a 40-foot pass to him near the basket, which allowed him to catch and go up before Hurricane's J.T. Rogoszewski could recover without fouling.
"Being a senior leader, it's my job to see a lot of things," Tubbs said. "I had seen the switch-off and I knew Arick had a mismatch. I've been playing with him for a long time, so I knew exactly what to do when it happened. I let him go get it."
That final play would've never been set up without the work done in the previous six minutes to overcome a deficit.
The defensive intensity increased and the Highlanders converted turnovers into points, which was crucial considering the fits that Hurricane's defense had given them. After a jumper by Dunn-Martin, Huntington High forced a turnover and Tubbs pushed the tempo before kicking out to J.R. Howard for a 3-pointer to cut the lead in half to three points.
Tubbs then took another transition opportunity and nailed a 15-foot jumper to pull the Highlanders within a point before two Nicks' free throws completed the comeback and gave Huntington High the lead with 2:24 left.
"I can't say enough about these kids," Huntington High coach Ron Hess said. "You know they are not going to quit. We were down and things didn't look good, but they kept working hard, kept playing good defense and they were very, very aggressive. I couldn't be more proud of this team than what I am tonight."
Nicks admitted to being frustrated throughout much of the game as the Highlanders struggled to find their offensive rhythm.
He credited coaches and his teammates for calming him down as the aggravation mounted early in the fourth quarter.
Hess said that Nicks is an emotional player, but he wouldn't have it any other way.
"You want a kid to play with emotion," Hess said. "You want a kid to care and he cares a lot. You have to put up with some of those things with a kid like that."
Because they were able to regroup, the Highlanders were able to evoke another emotion on Saturday night -- that being the one felt following a championship victory.
It was something that helped ease the sting of the close loss to Martinsburg in the football state championship game.
"I really wanted to do what Martinsburg did last year -- get one in football and basketball -- but it definitely helped a lot," Tubbs said. "It took my mind off of it. It's a relief."
For Tubbs and Nicks, the loss in December didn't feel real after they had dominated the second half and limited Martinsburg to negative yardage in the second half, only to fall 9-7 after time ran out on their comeback attempt.
That day, they had put together a championship effort, only for it to end with heartbreak.
But on Saturday, they finished the job.
And they earned the right to be called Class AAA champions.
For them, that's a title that has a nice ring to it.
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