Buckeye Trail and Magnolia are on different ends of the spectrum when it comes to the Wheeling Hospital OVAC Boys Basketball Championships.
The Guernsey County-based Warriors have never reached the title game, while the Blue Eagles will be appearing in their fourth straight Saturday when the two collide for the Class 3A championship inside Ohio University Eastern's Health and Physical Education Center just west of St. Clairsville.
Rod Gray's top-seeded Warriors (13-6) routed No. 4 Monroe Central, 78-56, in Tuesday night's semifinals in Old Washington, while Dave Tallman's No. 2 Blue Eagles (13-4) dispatched third-seeded River, 80-59, in the other semi.
"I hope so," Tallman said when asked if his team's prior appearances (1 championship (2011), 2 runnersup) in the tournament atmosphere could help. "We're used to the environment a little bit. We know what to expect and I hope it's an advantage.
"We'd like to jump right on them and keep going like we did against River," he added.
Saturday's game, which is the first-ever meeting between the two schools on the basketball court, will tip at 12:30 p.m.
"We got to see them play Monroe Central the other night," Tallman advised. "They've got a nice team that runs a motion offense. They're relentless going to the basket and they can fire the three, so we'll just have to play good, solid defense.
"Defensively, they are a straight man team."
That's a part of the game that suits Tallman just fine.
"We like that," he said of Buckeye Trail's defensive scheme. "We like to spread the opponent out and attack what they give us."
Magnolia will have the decided height advantage as the twin 6-6 towers of senior Mark Winters - a Wheeling Jesuit University recruit - and junior Zach Willhoite could cause the Warriors all kinds of trouble inside.
The Blue Eagles also start 6-0 senior Kyle Elliott, 5-11 freshman Preston Boswell, who connected on two huge 3-pointers in the semifinal against River, and 5-11 senior Stephen Rogalski, a W.Va. Wesleyan football signee.
"Kyle was injured all of last season but he did an outstanding job of guarding the Price kid the other night," Tallman praised. "Willhoite is starting to come into his own."
Off the bench comes 5-10 sophomore Spencer Campbell. Winters' twin brother - 6-4 Mike - also sees action.
"They give us a little bit of room with foul trouble," Tallman noted.
Rounding out the Blue Eagles' roster are seniors Sam Brookover (6-3) and Garrett Emch (5-9); junior Eric Smith (5-8); sophomore Dylan Shimp (6-1); and freshmen Mitch Winters (6-3) and Kyle Ritz (6-0).
"We are a veteran team in a sense, but our point guard is a freshman," Tallman said.
Buckeye Trail, on the other hand, is happy to finally be playing for all the marbles.
"We're excited," Gray said. "This group of kids has worked really hard this season."
The Warriors weren't part of the showcase last season, something that Gray said has motivated his team this season.
"If we had been a part of it, we'd made the tournament," he stressed. "With the addition of the two more games, we thought this would be a good place to use them. This was our goal to get here."
Buckeye Trail is led by its talented backcourt and a stud in the middle. Seniors CJ Beaver (5-9) and Zach Roe (5-10) will carry the brunt of the ballhandling duties, while 6-5 junior Josh Toland is a force to be reckoned with on the inside. The forwards are juniors Caleb Gray (6-1) and Tyler Starr (5-9).
Rounding out the roster are senior Austin Evans (5-9); juniors Jed Burga (5-9), Tyler Doudna (5-9), Wade Nelson (6-2), RJ Douglass (5-11), Spencer Warden (6-1) and Cory Cutlip (6-0); and sophomore Kyle Lashley (5-10).
The Warriors will be without the services of 6-1 junior Lane Starr who tore his ACL last week and is lost for the season.
"They are big, strong and fast," Gray said in describing Magnolia. "Anybody that can beat River like they did, man you're going to have your hands full, no matter what you do. We know that they are really good."
Staying out of foul trouble was the big key for the Warriors against the Seminoles, a team that had defeated Trail just three nights earlier.
Toland is a prime example of that. He never got into the flow of the game during that regular-season meeting, but on Tuesday, he scored at will and controlled the glass.
"We got into foul trouble down there," Gray said of the Saturday night loss in Woodsfield. "Tuesday night we stayed out of foul trouble and it made a big difference for us.
"We're just privileged to be here playing," Gray continued.
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