As the near-capacity crowd at Morgantown High's gym anxiously awaited the snowstorm that was bearing down on the region, they were almost as worried about the outcome of Tuesday night's Region I boys' basketball final against cross-state rivals Wheeling Park.
Would they see the Mohigans that blew out Patriots by 28 early in the season, or the injury-riddled team that lost by six in February?
Hearing future WVU Mountaineer Nathan Adrian's name announced as a starter for the first time since his foot injury in January provided a true sense of relief to the MHS faithful, and the Mohigans backed that feeling up, outscoring Park in every quarter to win, 67-51.
Wheeling Park’s Zachary Snedeker (21) tries to shoot over the block of Morgantown’s Nathan Adrian (33) Tuesday night.
"There was no question that we were starting Nate tonight," MHS coach Tom Yester said. "He proved the other night (in Morgantown's 41-35 Sectional final win against University) that his foot is fine, and so he was definitely in there for this one. And he came through it just fine."
After some careless play against the Hawks, the Mohigans (19-6) were much more cognizant of taking care of the basketball against Park, especially senior point guard Nick Colasante, who had the hot shooting hand early. Drilling a pair of first-half 3-pointers, Colasante was also able to find Adrian low in the block for a pair of early buckets as the Mohigans stretched out to a 28-18 lead midway through the second quarter.
But the Patriots (11-14), led by elusive sophomore guard Ryan Reinbeau, battled back every time MHS seemed poised to jump out to a comfortable lead, and kept it within eight points at the break, 33-25.
But it was Adrian and fellow senior swingman Dean Marshall who keyed the relentless Mohigans offense in the third quarter, as they combined for 14 to help Morgantown stretch out to a 13-point bulge after three at 50-37. Ten more points from the pair down the stretch put this one out of reach, and then it was the Mohigans cutting down the nets, their ticket to Charleston unquestionably punched.
Reinbeau finished with 20 for the Patriots, and was matched by Adrian's 20, with Colasante and Marshall each hitting for 15 for the Mohigans.
"We took care of the ball well, and my shot was falling, which was nice," Colasante smiled. "We wanted to put these guys away early, but they fought hard. But we responded well every time that made a run at us, and it feels great to put Wheeling Park in our rear-view mirror and head to States."
A tired but very happy Adrian agreed.
"We executed well, played good D, and didn't give the ball away, and that was the difference," he said. "Park has ended our season lots of times in my career, so it's about time we sent them home for a change. It's our turn to make some noise in Charleston."
Obviously pleased, Yester couldn't be more proud of his senior class as they make a once-expected, now unexpected, return trip to the state tournament.
"I tried not to think about Charleston," he admitted, commenting on the injuries that devastated his team. "I just focused on making us the best team we could be when March came around. And every one of those players (he pointed to the banners of seniors Mark Johnson, Daniel Eby, Austin Agnew, Adrian, Calasante, and Marshall) busted their butts for us. We're heading on because of them, and I couldn't be happier or more proud of this team. They deserve it."