CHARLESTON - It hasn't been the best of performances for Magnolia the past two seasons at the West Virginia Boys' State Basketball Tournament. Magnolia has been bounced in the first round each time, losing to Tug Valley and Keyser.
The Blue Eagles hope to change their fortunes this time around, beginning at 9 p.m. Wednesday in the Class AA quarterfinals against Tolsia inside in the Civic Center Coliseum.
''We really want to go down and win,'' Magnolia coach Dave Tallman said. ''One of the things that have hurt us in recent seasons has been handling pressure and that has been a constant focus all season.
File Photo by Rick Thorp
Magnolia’s Mark Winters has improved his game by adding a 3-point shot to his arsenal.
''Teams are going to be coming at us, so in practice we have been going against seven, eight guys to try to simulate some of the situations we might see.
''The bottom line is that we have to play better.''
Magnolia (20-4) spent most of the season as the No. 2-ranked team in Class AA but back-to-back losses to Fort Frye and Brooke sent the Blue Eagles tumbling in the eyes of coaches voting on the seeding.
Add in a sectional that featured three teams with losing records and past failures in Charleston, the Blue Eagles weren't given a lot of love for a team that many thought was one of the favorites.
In fact, Magnolia isn't even favored in its first-round game, entering as the No. 5 seed. Tolsia is No. 4 after going 19-7 and beating Poca in the regional co-final. The Rebels lost the sectional title to Tug Valley, the tournament's No. 2 seed.
''Those losses really hurt us and we have a perception about us because we haven't won down there,'' Tallman said. ''That makes it really important to us that we get a win and see what that can do for us.''
Magnolia advanced by beating Tyler Consolidated and Weir in the sectional final before topping Ravenswood in the regional co-final.
Magnolia is a much more talented team than Tyler Consolidated and Ravenswood, and those teams tried to slow the Blue Eagles down by playing at a methodical pace.
The Blue Eagles weathered that storm and that has given Tallman confidence his team will be successful against any type of offense it might come across.
''We can play any style but it benefits us to jump on people early and make them have to open things up more,'' Tallman said. ''But we know now what we are capable of if we get into a tight spot.''
One advantage Tallman has is No. 11 in blue.
Mark Winters was a first team all-stater last season and has taken his game up a notch, adding a 3-point shot to make him one of the most dangerous players to take the court this week.
The junior averages a double-double at 23 points and 10 rebounds. Tallman will look to pound the ball inside to Winters and his 6-foot-6 frame.
The Blue Eagles could be the biggest Class AA team in Charleston as Nick Blatt (6-5), Zach Wilhoite (6-6), Hunter Campbell (6-4), and Mike Winters (6-6) clog things up around the basket.
Jayson Keller runs the offense from the point with Stephen Rogalski, who missed much of the first part of the season with an injury, works at shooting guard.
Drew Keller, Evan Heslep and Tyler Myers come off the bench.
Magnolia is deep and that could be a factor. Injuries have plagued the Blue Eagles all season and Jayson Keller and Wilhoite are questionable for Wednesday's game.
''We have battled a lot of adversity and a lot of injuries,'' Tallman said. ''But I think we are a closer team because of it.
''We are going to have to pound the ball inside but also know we are going to have to hit some shots. Mark is the presence we want to establish inside, which will allow him to draw double teams and kick out to others for open shots.
''This a good rebounding team we are facing and they are almost a mirror image of us. Jacob Copley is a real good player who put up 42 on Point Pleasant. He is the real deal, a kid who can shoot the jumper, take you off the dribble and he is going to be a good matchup for Hunter or Mark.''
Copley averages 21 points per game for the Rebels. He is joined in the starting lineup by guard Terry Davis, guard/forward Morgan Stacy (13 ppg), 6-2 forward Brandon Clark, and 6-6 center Austin Brewer (10 ppg.)