CHARLESTON - For the first time in school history, Weirton Madonna was able to cut down the nets on its home court to celebrate a regional boys' basketball championship last Thursday night.
And for the first time, Coach George Vargo's Blue Dons will be making back-to-back trips to the state tournament in Charleston.
At 9:30 Thursday morning, Madonna begins its quest for the trifecta, a first repeat West Virginia Class A state championship.
Nick Battista and the Madonna will face Trinity on Thursday.
File Photo by Mike Mathison
The third-seeded Dons (22-3) will open state tournament play against a familiar team, fellow Ohio Valley Athletic Conference squad, and No. 6 Morgantown Trinity on the court at the Civic Center Coliseum.
Ironically, before cutting down the nets at the state capital last March, it was the Warriors who fell victim to Vargo's group in the state championship game.
Madonna also defeated then -unbeaten Trinity to claim its first OVAC Tournament title last year, before winning another this season, and also owns an 88-78 victory against Trinity on Jan. 18 this season at Morgantown.
In fact, the Blue Dons only loss to a W.Va. school this season was a 64-60 defeat at the hands of No. 1-ranked, and top-seeded, St. Marys on the road in mid February. Vargo's club advanced to Charleston with a tough 50-47 victory against Parkersburg Catholic.
When the ball is thrown in the air Thursday morning, Madonna will have three players on the court who also started in last year's state final. Leading the way is 6-foot-4 senior Clay Rokisky, who is scoring 16.5 a game, 6-6 Drazen Frankovitch (15 ppg., 10 rpg.) and point guard Nick Battista (10 ppg., six apg.).
The other two starters will be 6-foot junior Josh Egyud, who is the team's biggest three-point threat and averages 8.5 points, and 5-11 sophomore Ross Comis (10 ppg.). The seven-man rotation also includes junior Daniel Pietranton and Conner Mogan coming off the bench. Both average five points a night and are considered two of the team's biggest defensive presences.
"George (Vargo) and I have a lot of respect for each other," Trinity coach Herman Pierson said. "They beat us by 10 earlier this year, and we know they have a very good team, but we feel we are pretty good also.
"I honestly believe that anyone who comes out to watch this game is going to get their money's worth and see a very good basketball game."
The Warriors (17-7) had a pair of two-game losing streaks during the regular season and also dropped two of their last three in the regular season before rolling through the sectional and defeating Moorefield, 85-52 in the regional co-final.
"We had a little bit of a let down at the end of the season," Pierson said. "We played a couple of tough teams, but we lost to a Clay-Battelle team in our last regular-season game that we had beaten pretty good earlier.
"I think the guys just figured they didn't need to show up or they took the night off and you can't do that against a team like that. But we got our heads back on and have played well in the tournament so far."
The one thing that will not be a problem for the Warriors is size. Trinity enterers with five of its top eight players standing at least 6-3. Leading the way is 6-6 junior forward Cody Tripplett who averages nearly 24 points and 10 rebounds a game.
Junior Anthony Ghiardi (14.7 ppg., nine rpg.) is the other forward while 6-4 junior Seth Earl (3.8 ppg., 7 rpg.) is the center.
Directing the show is junior point guard Tommy Retton, who is averaging nearly 10 points and six assists a game and senior Jerid Jento, who scores 10.8 a night and is leading 3-point shooter in the northern half of the state.
A pleasant surprise has been 6-8 center Matt Caridi, who joined the team in midseason, but is contributing 7.2 points and six rebounds a game. Bryant Western, a 5-9 guard, is the team's defensive specialist with five steals a contest while 6-3 Sam Rondy adds nearly 10 points a game off the bench.
"There are advantages and disadvantages to playing a team in the tournament that you have already played," Pierson said. "The biggest plus is that you know their players and what they like to do a little bit.
"However, the biggest minus is that they have the same type of information about your team."
Not surprisingly, Vargo had the same feelings about playing a common foe.
"We are very familiar with them, of course that means that they are very familiar with us also," Vargo said. "Fortunately we did beat them by 10 at their place earlier this year.
"I told the kids that it is pretty ironic that we left Charleston having played them in our final game there last year and we will play them in our first game there this year. It is a hard task for sure, they are a very good team and Coach Pierson does a great job.
"It is always a challenge to figure out how to play them and penetrate their half-court defense.
"So far we have done a good job avoiding big upsets and winning the sectional, regional, OVAC and city championships. Hopefully all of that can continue on Thursday and we can get our first win in Charleston this year. I think things change down there and everyone has a bulls-eye on their back. It is all on an equal par down there.
"We just need to keep rolling and take care of our business. The kids are very confident and energized right now. I think we were a little tight against Parkersburg Catholic in the regional, but all of the pressure is off now and we can just go out and play our game."