Tyler Set For State
First trip to Charleston since 2002 for Knights
MIDDLEBOURNE — It could very well be the Cinderella story of the 2017-18 season. Rick Leach and the Tyler Consolidated boys’ basketball team will make the trip to Charleston for the W.Va. Class A state basketball tournament as a team that was really not on anybody’s radar at the beginning of the season.
However, the Silver Knights have their name out there now as they will play their first state tournament game since 2002.
“That was our goal at the beginning of the season to get to this point,” Leach said. “This is my first year back. I’ve been gone for 11 years. I thought we had a chance to do some good things and if we learned and played together, we could grow. The eight seniors I kept was a big deal. I start three of them and five of them come off the bench. That helps a lot too. It’s been rewarding at times, but its been growing experience too. We’ve learned to play together and hopefully learn from it.”
The Silver Knights go into state tournament as the No. 8 seed where they will face top-seeded Wheeling Central. The Maroon Knights are a constant guest at the Charleston Civic Center. They were ousted last year by reigning state champion Notre Dame.
Leach knows that his team has its work cut out for it.
“We’re hoping that our kids try to go down there and leave it on the floor,” Leach said. “Nobody is expecting us to win. Coach (Mel) Stephens, obviously has his team, they’re pretty darn good. He does a great job with his program. We just got to do what we do and we’ll play our half-court match up.
”They made 17 3s in their regional final. I don’t think I’ve seen any team make 17 in a game down there, and I’ve been going to the state basketball tournament for 30 years. We’re going to go down there and try to defend the ball. We have to take care of the ball. They’re going to pressure us all four quarters. That’s their game is full-court pressure. So we have to take care of the basketball and don’t let them have the easy buckets. That’ll be our goal, is to not to turn the ball over and make them beat us from the outside.”
Tyler Consolidated’s postseason has been one for the books. Along with punching its ticket to the big dance, it captured its first sectional crown in 11 years. In the sectional semifinal, the Silver Knights were able to down Ritchie County followed by an impressive team victory against St. Marys. The regional final came against a tough Cameron team where Tyler Consolidated overcame a 10-point first-half deficit to secure a victory. The win in the regional final tied the school record for a season with 17.
“We weren’t on anybody’s radar,” Leach said. “I don’t know if we were feeding off of that or not, but we have to earn people’s respect. And that’s what I kept telling them. I always told them, we wanted to get back into the conversation. No one talked about Tyler Consolidated anymore. When I left 11-12 years ago, we would always get votes in the AP poll because we were always on the tips of everybody’s tongues. They knew about us. For 11 years we lost and no one knows anything about Tyler Consolidated and I kept telling them that we wanted to be in the conversation again. We want people to mention Tyler Consolidated again. That was our goal and motivation to get better.”
To make matters even more impressive, in all three games at least three Silver Knights scored in double figures, four of which came in the sectional final game. However, that’s nothing new as it has been something Tyler Consolidated has been doing all season.
In fact, although only one player is averaging double figures in scoring, three are just under 10. Griffin Phillips leads the way averaging 16.4 points while Ty West is netting around 9.8. Dylan Roberts is averaging a solid 9.7 points per contest and Mark Rucker is contributing 9.1.
“All four of those guys have led us in a game maybe two or three times this year,” Leach said. “Obviously Griffin at 16 a game, he led us most of the time. Those three other guys have stepped up and have been the leading scorer in games. We kind of relish that idea that if you come in and try to shut down Griffin, other guys will have big nights. Any of those three can lead us in scoring if Griffin is not able to score. I have all the confidence in the world that could happen.”
It’s true. In the sectional final game, although Phillips had 11 points, Roberts had a game-high 14 while Rucker netted 13 and West had 12. In the sectional semifinal, Rucker poured in 18 points, Griffin netted 15 and West had 14. Phillips then led the way with 23 points including five 3-pointers while Roberts had 17 going 14 of 14 from the foul line in the fourth quarter, and Rucker secured 10.
It has been a long, but enjoyable ride for the Silver Knights. When the season started, it was unfamiliar territory for the kids and their coach. And like all teams, they set goals. For the Silver Knights, however, they set small goals. And throughout the season, as those goals were being accomplished, new goals were then reset. That’s when the a hashtag #951came about. The nine is for the school’s ninth sectional title, five indicating the fifth regional championship and 1 implying the first state title.
“It’s funny, I coached probably five of their dads,” Leach said. “I didn’t know these kids coming in and they didn’t know me. So we’ve been learning from each other. As I talked to them Friday at practice, I think they finally realized on what they accomplished and how big of a deal it is.
”I tried to explain the importance or what’s left in Charleston. With only 24 teams left in the state of West Virginia playing basketball, eight in each class, we accomplished things that they will remember for the rest of their life and they have something to be proud of.”