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Hillbillies survive and advance to sectional semifinals, defeat Van 63-57

Bill Lusk | WVOW Sports


MAN   Survive and advance, the all too common cliche heard around sports was a perfect fit Monday night at the Man Memorial Fieldhouse as the fourth seeded Man Hillbillies held off the fifth seed and a very determined group of Van Bulldogs to advance to the Class A Region IV Section I semifinals with a 63-57 win over Van.

Despite an 18-game losing streak and a 1-20 record, Van didn't back down from a Man team that had defeated them by 13 and 32 points during the regular season, yet the Bulldogs found themselves down 59-57 following a pair of free throws from Josh Marcum with 1:49 to play in the fourth quarter.

Van would never score again and with a chance to tie or take the lead, the Bulldogs turned the ball over with 59 seconds remaining. Man was able to run off 21 seconds before Van committed its fourth team of the quarter with 38 seconds left.

On the ensuing inbound, Jake Endicott snuck behind the Van defense and scored with 34 seconds left to give Man a 61-57 lead, and 16 seconds later, Noah Frazier came away with a steal and layup to put the game on ice.

"I explained before tipoff up in the locker room that it is hard to beat a team three times in a season and you will find out tonight," Man coach TJ Blevins said. "I told them that they would find out tonight that we were not going to put up 80-some points like we did over there. I said that these kids (Van) would come out loose and be ready to play."

"The pressure is on you; you are the ones that is getting hunted right now. We are on our home floor, they are going to show up tonight," Blevins said. "I swear I think that fourth quarter, they had to shoot 70 percent maybe 80 percent."

Man improved to 7-16 and moves on to face top-seed and third-ranked Tug Valley Wednesday night at Tug Valley High School. The Hillbillies were defeated by the Panthers, 97-51, on January 31 at Tug Valley and again, 79-25, on February 13 at Man.

Despite those results and being in the underdog's role, Blevins stressed the importance of energy to his team following the win.

"We got to get a good practice in, but I told them if we come out and have the same energy tonight that it is going to be a long night," Blevins said. "I am thinking that they are going to respond a little bit better, I am hoping that they will, but that is why you play the game."

"I explained to them that there are upsets every single season," Blevins said. "Hopefully we can get over there in Naugatuck and make some noise."

The Hillbillies were led by Jake Endicott with 18 points. Justin Mullins came off the bench to score 12 points and Trey Ward had 10.

With Man trailing Van, 24-20, following a 7-0 Bulldogs run with 4:00 remaining in the first half, Mullins provided the Hillbillies with the spark they needed and jumpstart a 10-0 run to put Man ahead 30-24 at halftime.

Following a Bryson Wingler free throw to bring Man within three, 24-21, with 2:47 to play in the first half, Mullins knocked three straight 3's in a span of one minute. His first 3 with 1:15 to play tied the game at 24 and his third 3 with 15 seconds remaining put Man ahead by six.

"We have begged this kid since last year to come along for us, and he shot the ball pretty well all JV season and I told him before the game to be ready because everybody that is getting called upon tonight, we need you," Blevins said. "I told him before tipoff that we were going to have to have some shots and he comes straight in, and in 10 seconds he was firing and that really separated the first half for us."

Mullins, however, didn't stop there, after Van pulled to within three on Mason Johner's 3 to start the third, he drained a fourth straight trifecta with 6:53 remaining to give Man its six-point lead back.

"That was the difference in the game. The big difference was that nine-point run right before the half, Mullins shot those balls, and it turned out to be the difference in the game," Van coach Dave Gogas said. "That hurts you, if we that away and just play even right there, it could have been a different outcome."

Mullins' fourth 3 would the last points Man would score over the next 3:01 as Van went on an 11-0 run to take a 38-33 lead on a bucket from Markie Meadows.

Man responded with a 15-2 run to close the quarter and led 48-40 after three quarters of play, but the Hillbillies couldn't put the Bulldogs away in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.

"It didn't look like these guys were here tonight, we came out with low energy," Blevins said. "I was hoping the crowd would get into it and get them fired up. It took some kind of spark there at the end of the third quarter to get them going."

The Bulldogs continued to fight and claw their way back into the contest, starting the quarter on an 11-7 run to trim the deficit in half, and pull to within four, 55-51 on Gavin Branham's 3-pointer with 3:47 to play.

"I was proud of them kids; they gave good effort, and we moved the ball around pretty good, but just couldn't get some shots there at the end to drop," Gogas said. "Man made shots and hats off to them, they made them when the counted."

Branham led Van with a game-high 19 points on six 3-pointers as the Bulldogs were able to knock down 10 3's to stay within striking distance of the Hillbillies. Johner finished with 15 points.

"We shot the ball well at times there, and there were a couple of times there that we needed one to fall, but couldn't get it to fall," Gogas said. "That is why is happens in basketball, it is a game of inches and it's the same way in football."

Van ended the season on a 19-game losing streak and concluded the year with a 1-21 record.

"We got a young team, and I was proud of their effort," Gogas said. "We are losing two seniors, and we are looking forward to the next couple of years. A couple of those kids out there were freshmen that were starting."

"We talked about the offseason and the message was you got to put the work in," Gogas said. "It starts in the summertime, and some of these younger kids don't have that work effort yet and they got to get it. That was one of the messages I sent by the two seniors I had, they put the effort in and did it for four years during the summer."

Branham along with fellow senior Marcum, who scored five points, played their last game in a Van High School uniform. Gogas called his two seniors, two model kids for any high school program.

"They showed up every day, stayed in contact with me, and had good grades," Gogas said. "I'm not worried about those two kids in life because they'll be there, and I'd take 15 kids like that if I could."

Man and Tug Valley will tipoff at 7 p.m. Wednesday night with the winner facing either second seed Tolsia or third seed Sherman in Friday's sectional championship game.

"As far as singling anyone out from Tug, there is not one kid to single out, they got kids coming off the bench chucking up three's and they are a very good ballclub," Blevins said. "There is not one person that we will focus on, it will be the whole Tug Valley team."

Class A Region IV Section I Tournament (Man Memorial Fieldhouse, Man, WV)

Man 63, Van 57

Van Bulldogs (1-21)

Branham 6 1-1 19, Meadows 3 1-3 7, Marcum 1 2-3 5, Kessinger 4 0-0 8, Davis 1 0-0 3,

Johner 6 1-2 15. Totals: 21 5-9 57.

Man Hillbillies (7-16)

Endicott 8 2-4 18, Sanders 1 0-2 2, Ward 4 1-4 10, Goble 1 0-0 2, Hicks 4 0-0 8, Cantrell 1 0-2 3, Frazier 2 2-2 7, Wingler 0 1-2 1, Mullins 4 0-0 12.

Van 13 11 16 15- 57

Man 16 14 18 15- 63

3-point field goals_Van 10 (Branham 6, Johner 2, Davis, Marcum), Man 7 (Mullins 4, Cantrell, Frazier, Ward).



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