CHARLESTON — Thursday’s Class AAA girls’ state tournament game between Logan and Princeton features one of the most eclectic match-ups for the entire week.
Shayna Gore vs. McKenzie Akers.
The game, however, will be much more than just a one-on-one battle between two of the state’s top superstar players.
No. 5 seed Logan (15-9) and No. 4 Princeton (19-5) expects to be one heck of a game.
The Lady Cats and the Tigerettes are scheduled to battle it out on Thursday at 11:15 a.m. in one of the four Class AAA state tournament games at the Charleston Civic Center.
A win over Princeton and Logan would play on Friday at 5:30 p.m. in one of the two Class AAA state semifinals against either Spring Valley or Capital.
Spring Valley (22-3), ranked No. 2 in the state, got the top seed. The Timberwolves beat Logan 68-67 in the Class AAA sectional title game at Huntington.
Capital, seeded eighth, is just 10-13, so a Logan-Spring Valley rematch could be in the cards. Spring Valley and Capital are slated to play on Wednesday at 7:15 p.m.
In the lower bracket, No. 2 seed Morgantown (19-5) battles with No. 7 Martinsburg (15-6) on Wednesday at 11:15 a.m. and No. 3 Parkersburg South (17-7) takes on No. 6 Hedgesville (18-7) on Thursday at 7:15 p.m.
The lower bracket semifinals are scheduled to be played on Friday at 9 p.m.
The Class AAA state championship game is set for Saturday at 7:15 p.m.
Logan went 4-5 this season against state tourney teams from all classes.
The Logan-Princeton game appears to be even odds.
Princeton, while lacking in size, is a sound basketball team, led by Akers, a 5-foot-6 senior guard, who averages 25.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals a game.
The Tigerettes have only one player — Rachel Surface — who stands 6-feet tall. The next tallest Princeton player — freshman Kaleigh Barker — is 5-9. The Tigerettes’ other regular post player Khadija Payne, is just 5-7. Wing Hannah Preservati is 5-8, while other starting guard Marissa Mullins is only 5-3.
Logan’s point guard Gore, who averages 19.4 points and 9 assists a game, stands 5-11 herself. She has recorded 19 double-doubles in 24 games this season.
The Lady Cats also have a major inside presence in 6-2 freshman center Monica Mitchell, who has had a breakout frosh season, averaging 16 points and 15 rebounds per game. Of the 24 games, Mitchell has had 21 double-doubles. In three of those games she didn’t start.
Logan coach Kevin Gertz said Princeton will be a tough match-up for his team.
“They have one of the premiere shooters in the state in McKenzie Akers,” Gertz said. “She’s a big-time player. She’s not a real big kid but she plays hard and is athletic. She’s quick but not overly quick like some of the kids that we’ve played. She’s one of the best shooters — boys or girls — that I’ve seen all season.”
Princeton, led by 30-year head coach Debbie Ball, has a scrappy team and can hit the 3-ball from outside.
“They know they have to work harder to make up for their size,” Ball told the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. “Sometimes it might be the smallest one who grabs the rebound.”
Despite its lack of size, Princeton went 19-5 in the difficult Mountain State Athletic Conference.
“They have a lot of heart,” Ball told the Bluefield paper. “It doesn’t matter who they’re playing, they’ll never give up. McKenzie is feisty. She’s a very competitive person. She really wants to do her best.”
Princeton, not to anyone’s surprise, is a perimeter team. Akers’ 3-point marksmanship has improved greatly this season and Preservati, Mullins and reserve Jessica Inman can also fill it up from downtown. Mullins averages 11.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals per game. Preservati has battled back from a torn ACL last summer which required knee surgery. She averages 6.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals a game.
Payne averages 7.2 points, nine rebounds and two steals a game. Surface pulls down seven boards per contest.
The Tigerettes advanced to state with a 71-66 regional tourney win over George Washington.
Coach Ball said Logan will be tough to handle.
“I’ve talked to a lot of coaches, and they say Logan has peaked when it was supposed to,” Ball said. “They’re on a roll. I don’t know if my team has peaked. I just know they’re different now since we beat GW.”
For Ball, this is her fifth trip to the state tourney, but is 0-4 all-time.
Logan is 0-2 all-time in the state tourney, including the 2000 first-round loss to Huntington, so something has got to give on Thursday morning.
The Lady Cats and the other 3A state tourney teams, seemed to get a break when Greenbrier East was ousted in the regionals.
“When they got beat that made a awful lot of people happy,” Gertz said of East. “At the time they got beat I was upset because I didn’t think that we had enough respect from people in this state. I thought that we would be the eighth seed. I really did. I’m not saying that we’re any better than them but we have played so well against them I thought that it would be to our advantage to play them a third time. If they won we would have been the sixth seed and that would have put us against Morgantown and that, in my opinion, would have been the toughest first-round draw of anybody.”
Gertz said it should be 50-50 against the Tigerettes.
“I like our girls and I think this game is a toss-up,” Gertz said. “That’s what a 4-5 game should be. If we play well I think that we’ll move on to Friday.”
Other than Logan’s one-two punch of Mitchell and Gore, the Lady Cats also have a great supporting cast.
Sophomore Kyra Cline and senior Hannah Tothe have lit up the scoreboard this season with their shots behind the 3-point arc.
In last week’s regional win at St. Albans, Tothe led the Lady Cats with a game-high 20 points, while Cline had 16. Tothe netted 5-of-5 3-pointers in the first half for 15 points as Logan led 33-19. Cline nailed three treys for the game and had 14 at the break.
“Kyra has played real well,” Gertz said. “Kyra is a streaky shooter and when she gets on a roll she can really shoot with any of them. What she has done so well this year has been to play defense. We play a lot of box-and-one and I put her on their best player. She tends to shut them down. Hannah has been absolutely huge. She doesn’t shoot a whole lot but she hasn’t missed a whole lot. She went into the Winfield game averaging just under six points a game and she is just under 10.”
Seniors Kelsey and Katie Kirk and Jenna Kimler have given Logan some depth in the paint. Another senior, Rachelle Toppings, has also been a key role player since she returned from an ankle injury which sidelined her for much of the season.
Sophomores Hannah Adkins and Summer Collins have been big contributors off the bench with their speed, defense and energy.
“Those two, along with Rachelle, are our high energy people,” Gertz said. “This game coming up, they are probably going to get more minutes than normal because of how small and quick they are. We’re probably going to have to go a bit smaller than what we are used to playing. We can’t let them get on a roll and we can’t let them get a lot of 3s. If we do, it will be a long night.”
Gertz said he hopes for another big turnout from the Logan fans. Lady Cats’ fans have been out in full force this season and have traveled well, particularly in the recent sectional tourney at Huntington and the regional game last week at St. Albans.
“I know it’s an early game and a morning game but I just hope to see as many people there. Logan County has always supported its Logan County teams. I hope to see a lot of fans come to the game,” he said.