University wins to earn berth at state hoops tourney

MORGANTOWN — Ethan Ridgeway is a man of few words.

The University senior is often soft-spoken and quiet, but that doesn’t translate to his play on the hardwood. Despite his calm demeanor, Ridgeway steps up in a big way night-in and night-out as a leader for the Hawks.

Tuesday night, Ridgeway demonstrated that ability once again as he dropped 19 points in the WVSSAC Class AAA Region I co-final to lift UHS to a 79-42 victory over John Marshall.

In addition to helping his team secure the win, Ridgeway solidified his legacy at UHS, becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer with his basket at the 3:14 mark of the first quarter.

“It feels great now. It’s a great accomplishment to get,” Ridgeway said. “Looking back after I’m done playing basketball, it’ll be something to always be grateful for.”

Ridgeway and the Hawks were a bit sluggish to start, but picked up the tempo as the evening wore on. UHS head coach Joe Schmidle found himself dissatisfied with his team’s effort to open the contest.

“The kids slept until 1 o’clock in the afternoon like they have every day (during the teacher’s strike), and didn’t show up to play until there was about four minutes left to go in the second quarter,” Schmidle said.

“I’m glad we’re getting back to school tomorrow and back into a routine, because it’s just affecting the way they play, the way they practice and everything.”

As the Hawks found their rhythm, they began to pour on the offense, outhustling and outshooting their opponents for the rest of the evening. John Marshall head coach Chad Clutter said his squad “knew they would have their hands full” heading into the match-up.

“We knew we’d have to slow the game down and try to control the tempo, and I thought we did a good job of that early on. They just have more shooters than we do,” Clutter said.

“They made all kinds of shots, and were scoring in fast break situations, and once you get down 12-15 to a team like this, it’s kind of hard to crawl back in.”

Schmidle saw his team’s collective rebounding effort to be a highlight of the Hawks’ performance, as well as their ball movement and transition offense.

“At times, we played well in spurts. We shared the ball well, and I thought we did a really good job on the boards,” he said. “In the second half, I thought we got the ball out in transition a little bit better.”

Schmidle worries, however, that his team’s mental preparation may still not be at the level it needs to perform at a high level against state-championship caliber competition.

“We’re still forgetting where to go, and some of our plays; we’re forgetting out of bounds plays. That’s a lack of focus,” Schmidle said. “You can’t do that at crucial times in big games against good teams, and that’s what everyone is going to be from here on out We’re going to have to remedy that.”

John Marshall finishes its season at 13-12 with the loss, a nine-victory turnaround from a three-win season a year prior. Senior Gunner Thompson finished his career at second on the John Marshall all-time leading scorers list.

“I appreciate all the effort and parent support. John Marshall basketball in on the rise, and we’ll see some good teams next year and be ready to roll,” Clutter said.

UHS advances to the Class AAA state tournament, at the Charleston Civic Center, with the win. It’s the Hawks’ second straight season advancing to the tournament.

“For University High to be in Charleston at all, it’s just — I didn’t know if it was ever going to happen,” Schmidle said. “For it to happen two years in a row, that just tells you how hard these kids have worked the past few years to make it happen and really change the culture and make it a winning program.”

The Hawks were named the top seed in the tournament, and will open play March 14, against eighth-seeded local rival Morgantown. Tip-off is slated for 7:15 p.m.

UHS has defeated MHS three times on the year, most recently Friday, in the sectional tournament. Schmidle predicts the game will be “a war.”

“It’s a great feeling, but we still have a lot more work to do,” Ridgeway said on making the eight-team field. “We’ve still got three more games to win before I’ll be satisfied.”

— Single-session tickets for the state boys’ basketball tournaments are available via ticketmas for $9 (the price is subject to fees).

Single-session tickets also are available at the Charleston Civic Center box office.

General seating is $8, reserved seating $9.

You may still obtain book tickets of reserved seating for all eight sessions of the tournament for $64. They are available at the Civic Center box office or at 304-345-7469 (SHOW).

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