CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Mingo Central Miners’ 2017 season came to a halt in the semifinals of the West Virginia State tournament Friday night as they lost to No. 1 seed Fairmont Senior 62-44 at the Charleston Civic Center.
The final score was not indicative of the game as the Miners jumped out to a 17-11 lead after the first quarter.
But the athletic Polar Bears went on a 13-3 run in the second quarter and switched the momentum and flow of the game. At halftime the Miners trailed 28-21 as they headed into the coliseum’s dressing room trying to regroup. Fairmont made 7-of-9 baskets in the quarter shooting 78 percent, compared to 4-for-10 in the first quarter for 40 percent.
“That was really the quarter that cost us the game,” Mingo Coach Kevin Hatfield said.
Ironically, it was Fairmont that Mingo Central beat last December for the Class AA state football championship played in Wheeling. So the Polar Bears got some revenge against the Miners this time around, although it was a different shaped ball.
Jeremy Dillon led the Miners as the state’s best football player (the Kennedy Award Winner), but he tried to take the basketball team on his shoulders, but couldn’t quite come out with the same result.
Dillon, a junior, had eight first quarter points, while freshman Drew Hatfield scored seven to help MCHS get the early lead. Dillon grabbed a rebound in the closing seconds, took a dribble and fired a strike to junior guard Josh Reed who made a contested layup to close out the first quarter.
But Fairmont changed their defense and they were able to shut down the Miners in the second quarter. The Polar Bears had came out pressing, but it wasn’t effective so they switched to a match-up zone and that seemed to make a difference.
“Big thing for us is just how well we played defensively,” Fairmont Senior coach David Retton said. “We’re a pressing team, but they did a great job attacking the press.“We played more zone tonight in this game than we have all year combined.”
Miners Coach Hatfield agreed that was the difference in the game.
“The matchup kind of stalled us out. We weren’t dribbling gaps, we weren’t moving on offense. We kind of got that corrected, it was still close in the third quarter, we just couldn’t get big buckets, we couldn’t get stops and they shot really well,” he said.
Mingo made a valiant effort and the Polar Bears only outscored the Miners 12-10 in the third quarter. But many of the shots they took just wouldn’t fall like they did in the first round against Philip Barbour where the team shot 67 percent in the first half and 55 for the game.
Senior Aaron Banks hit the offensive boards hard in the third quarter scored on four putbacks to keep his team close, but it just wasn’t enough.
“Fact of the matter is, we didn’t shoot very well,” Hatfield said. “Probably the worst thing that happened was them getting out of the press, believe it or not, because that’s what gives most people problems.”
The Polar Beats outscored the Miners 22-13 in the final period to build on their lead. There came a point late in the quarter that Mingo Central players and fans knew the deficit was just too much to overcome.
In that final quarter when Dillon got the ball he was double-teamed by the stingy Polar Bear defense.
“We knew coming in they were going to be a tough matchup,” Hatfield added. “They are really long and athletic. We thought we could play with them and we knew we had to box out and rebound.”
Fairmont out-rebounded the Miners 34-27 and many of those were on the offensive end (13) where they scored on missed baskets.
For the game the Polar Bears made 23-of-49 from the field for 47 percent for the game, while Mingo made 17-of-48 for 35 percent. The Miners were only 2-for-13 from behind the arc, compared to 7-for-14 for Fairmont Senior. Mingo was 8-of-11 at the free throw line, while Fairmont was 9-of-13.
The game ended the careers for seniors Aaron Banks, Keshean Rhodes and Daniel Buchanan. They played on last year’s team that suffered through a season where they only won two games. So their final year was much better and an emotional Hatfield said he will miss his seniors.
“Keshean, Dan and Banks have done a really good job. I’ve really enjoyed coaching them this year,” he said.
Banks said in the post game interviews that it was a fun year.
“I’ve really grown close to this team. I love all these guys. They are like my brothers,” he said.
Banks will likely get a track scholarship after he graduates.
“We ought to be pretty good next year,” Hatfield added of the players that will return.
Three starters will be back including Dillon, Hatfield and sophomore Canaan Fletcher, along with some key reserves.
Mingo Central finished the season 20-7 and they were ranked in the top five of Class AA most of the year and spent time ranked No. 1 for part of the season.
Dillon led Mingo Central finishing with 18 points and eight rebounds. Banks finished with 11, Hatfield nine, but Rhodes was held to two points and Fletcher, who battled early foul trouble, did not score. Reed and Buchanan each scored a basket for two points.
Tavon Horton and Zyon Dobbs led Fairmont with 13 points each, while Jalen Bridges scored 11. Justin Lee added nine, Dasilas Jones and DeAndre Payne had seven each and Dante Stills five. Stills, who played on the Polar Bears’ football team, pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds. Dobbs battled foul problems for Fairmont and picked up his third early in the third quarter.
The win put Fairmont Senior into the Class AA championship game Saturday against Chapmanville Regional. The Tigers, who came out of Region 4 with Mingo Central, were playing in their first-ever title game.