Tug Valley Claims Class A State Championship In Gritty Win Over Tucker County

The Tug Valley Panthers (22-6) claimed their first boys basketball state championship in 11 years as the defeated the top seed Tucker County Mountain Lions (23-4) in the lowest scoring championship game in 80 years, 35-32.

It is Tug Valley’s fourth boys basketball state championship and falls in the 25th anniversary year of the Panthers’ first ever state title in 1999.

In a physical contest that saw both teams fighting for every inch, the Mountain Lions jumped out in the first quarter and fought their way to a 10-5 advantage heading into the second quarter.

Tucker County extended its lead to 15-9 midway through the second quarter. Then suddenly, Kaden Hale went off. Hale rained down three 3-pointers in just over a minute to move Tug Valley to an 18-17 lead at the half, setting the stage for a back and forth second half.

“I knew that we had to do something,” said Hale. “They got the ball in my hands. I shot it, and it was going in.”

The third period was a back and fourth affair with every possession counting, but the Mountain Lions held a 28-26 lead heading into the final quarter following a Garrett Wilfong tip in.

The Mountain Lions stretched the lead out to 30-26, but the Panthers battled back and took the lead on a Buddy Marcum basket with 1:55 left to make the score 31-30. Tucker County’s Ethan Rosenau scored on a lay up with 0:51 to give the lead back to Mountain Lions.

Tug Valley had one last chance, but it appeared to slip away when Bryson Elia’s bounce pass was tipped away and into Tucker County’s hands. Elia didn’t give up though. He picked off a pass and drove in for the basket with 0:12 left, giving Tug Valley a 33-32 lead. It was Elia’s only two points of the game.

“After the ball was stolen, I knew that I couldn’t give up because it was do or die,” said Elia. “There was an open gap to the rim, and I took the opportunity. Someone had to score, and I did it.”

The Panthers had a couple of fouls to give and used those to help whittle the clock down to :06 left. Wilfong got a shot off but it was deflected and resulted in a Tucker County turnover. Braydun Ferris then hit two free throws, and the party began in Naugatuck.

“I’m so happy for our community,” said Tug Valley head coach Garland “Rabbit” Thompson. “As you can tell, they live and breathe Tug Valley basketball. I’m so happy for my coaches who give me such good advice. But I am really so proud of all of these kids wearing black with Tug Valley across their chests. That was a fight.”

Thompson spoke a bit about how special of a basketball community that Tug Valley is.

“To win four state titles is simply amazing,” he said. “It’s not me. It’s those kids. There are little kids out there right now hoping and dreaming that they can cut down their nets.”

Tug Valley consistently had the most fans throughout the tournament and earned the School Spirit Award for the event.

Marcum was the lone senior on the team and he was happy to go out a champion and the tournament that he had in general.

“If feels great,” he said. “I did it with my teammates.I love every single one of them, and I’m going to miss them. I knew my role and knew that if we didn’t shoot well that rebounds and defense would be what helped us pull it out. My job is to rebound, and that’s what I do.”

Hale led all scorers with 13 points. Marcum had 9 points and 8 rebounds. Ferris finished with 6 points and 5 assists. Ashton Davis fired in 3 points. Carson Newsome and Elia scored 2 points each.

Tucker County was led by Ashton Lycliter with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

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