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Tug Valley’s Easton Davis goes up for a shot in action earlier this season. The Panthers advanced to the Class A state tournament before the COVID-19 outbreak ended the season.

Sports Editor’s Note: This is the third and final chapter  about Tug Valley’s Dream Season.

The Tug Valley Panthers journey has brought them to the door step of Hurricane High School.

But what would be the deciding factor that puts this young team over the top?

Would it be the resolve they gained through the tough parts of their season?

Or the two budding stars (Caleb May and Ethan Colegrove) that had developed right before their eyes as the season progressed?

The young Panthers were set to face off against the 8-14 Buffalo Bison’s.

The Panthers jumped out to a 20-13 lead by the end of the first quarter.

Caleb May scored 10 points in the opening quarter, while Ethan Colegrove and Easton Davis matched May’s effort with five points apiece.

The Panthers dropped another 20 points in the second quarter, while holding the Bison’s to 15.

The Panthers managed to move the ball fluently in the second period getting five players into the scoring column.

May and Colegrove managed to add six points to their total, while Justin Hall and Joby Sorrell each  hit a three-pointer apiece.

Ian Reed also got on the board with a mid-range jumper of his own.

At the half, the Panthers led the Bison 40-28.

The Panthers went on to command the game, never once surrendering their lead.

Tug Valley secured the 64-52 win over Buffalo as the star duo of May and Colegrove led all scorers with 24 and 20.

But the next round of the section tournament held its own set of challenges.

Tug Valley faced off against the Van Bulldogs, a team they had met twice in regular season play.

The Panthers pulled out wins against the Bulldogs in the previous two matchups, winning 66-32 in the first and 84-47 in the second.

But, facing a team three times in one season is tough, they know how you play and they know how well they will need to play to have a chance at victory.

In the third matchup against Van, Tug Valley stormed out of the gates and went on an 11-0 run late in the first and stretched into the second quarter.

The Panthers entered the half up 35-20 over the Bulldogs.

Junior point guard Caleb May ended the first half with 14 points and continued his stellar performance into the third quarter.

May had eight points in the third quarter alone.

The Panthers went on to maintain the cushion they had built early in the game to come away with the win.

May dominated the game and dictated it’s flow throughout, simply doing anything he wanted while keeping his teammates involved.

May finished the contest with 30 points on top of six assists.

Reed finished with 18 points of his own.

The 65-56 win over the Bulldogs gave the Panthers a chance to redeem themselves against a team they had met earlier in the season.

That team being the Parkersburg Catholic Crusaders.

And though the Panthers claimed the 41-35 win over the Crusaders earlier in the season, that win didn’t avenge the loss they suffered at Parkersburg Catholic in the Region 4 Tournament a season ago.

This time the matchup took place in Naugatuck on the Panthers’ home floor.

Tug Valley topped the Crusaders 41-38 in a physical battle that went down to the final seconds of play.

Baskets were hard to come by for both teams early on as the first quarter ended with the Panthers down 10-6.

However, the Panthers bounced back in the second quarter as they had a 14-point quarter.

Colegrove had six of the Panthers’ points in the second and was a consistent force down low for Tug Valley all evening.

Defense became the emphasis for the Panthers in the second quarter as well as they held the Crusaders to only seven points.

Tug Valley assumed the halftime lead going up over the Crusaders 20-17 entering the break.

This elevated defensive intensity carried throughout the rest of the game as the Panthers again held the Crusaders to seven points in the third quarter.

In the third, both teams began to feel the effect of the physical game as it became much harder to get jumpers to fall.

However, the Panthers reverted to a more drawn out offense that allowed them to get the ball inside to their big men; putting pressure on the Crusader defense and ultimately resulting in the Panthers getting bonus opportunities.

Tug Valley ended the third with nine team points and managed to keep 29-24 lead over the Crusaders going into the fourth.

In the fourth quarter, the Crusaders made a tremendous effort at a comeback outscoring the Panthers 14-12.

On the last possession of the game, Parkersburg Catholic had the chance to tie the game with only four seconds remaining in play, down by three.

The Crusaders Patrick Copen received a pass in the corner and to his surprise a Tug Valley defender in his hip pocket.

The airtight defense didn’t allow Copen to get the ideal shot off as he put up an unbalanced three-point attempt.

This led to the Panthers securing the 41-38 win over the Crusaders.

Colegrove finished with 19 points and nine rebounds on the night.

His performance along with Tug Valley’s excellent free throw shooting (80 percent on the night) helped secure the win for the Panthers.

Finally, the Panthers had not only claimed redemption for last season’s loss, but punched their ticket to the state tournament.

Right after the win, it was announced that the Panthers had received the eighth seed in the Class A State Tournament and would be facing the top ranked Williamstown Yellow Jackets in the first round.

Or so they thought.

Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world and halted everything from people’s jobs, sports of all levels (Little League, high school, college, and pro), and even human interaction.

But, what would have happened if the COVID-19 pandemic wouldn’t have happened?

Counting the post season, the Panthers had won eight of the last 11 games and were arguably the hottest team in Class A high school boys basketball.

Earlier in the season, the Panthers lost to the Yellow Jackets 51-49 and had proved they could hang with the best in the state.

Tug Valley was a different team than the first time the two teams met.

They had been commanding games and dominating the defensive side of the ball.

Offensively, the Panthers were a threat to any team as they had one of the best guards in the state in May, who at the end of the season was averaging 17 points per game along with four assists.

May also was placed on the First Team All-State and the Appalachian Newspapers Inc. First Team All-Mountain.

May’s teammate Colegrove also made the All-state Team being placed on the Third Team and the ANI All Mountain Second Team.

Colegrove averaged 12 points per game along with eight rebounds per game.

The big man’s presence on the floor was always felt as he was either banging down low, starting fast-breaks or even helping stretch the floor with his shooting.

The two stars also had a supporting cast worth mentioning as well.

As the team returns every single player from this season’s squad for next season.

“Ian (Reed) is one of those guys who can score in a hurry and you wont see it coming at all,” May said. “He can drop 15 in a blink of an eye and if it wasn’t for him and how fearless he is, we wouldn’t have made it as far as we did.”

Reed finished the season averaging 10 points per game but, the junior guard had multiple 20 point games this season and towards the end of the regular season and through the playoffs he was one of the hottest shooters in the state.

Along with Reed, the team had Justin Hall, a guard who could “defend four positions on the floor and really get to the rim,” according to head coach Rabbit Thompson.

The Panthers also sported another sharpshooter in Joby Sorrell.

“Joby is the type of guy who does anything as long as he thinks it benefits the team and it doesn’t matter what shot you ask him to take or who he has to defend, if it’s for the team, you better believe he will give everything he has,” said Colegrove.

Colegrove, being one of the team’s top forwards also shed light on his fellow big men.

“A lot of people over look the type of player Zach (Savage) is because of his size and power, but that just plays into our hands since he is much more than that,” Colegrove said. “He plays like a guard and has a quicker first step than anyone that guards him.”

“Zach makes really good decisions with the ball and can rebound and push the ball up the floor, for us he added so much consistency to our lineup,” said coach Thompson.

Along with Savage and Colegrove, the team sported two more big men that played key roles in the team’s success this season.

Matt Lineville and Easton Davis often played beside Colegrove and all three were perfect compliments to each other.

“Matthew is a spark plug and everything he does. He causes the crowd to explode, he can protect the rim, score when we need him too and even lock up guards on a switch,” said Colegrove. “But, the more comfortable he gets the more dangerous he will be and I think he proved that with his play this year.”

“Easton works so well off of the ball and opposite Ethan, maybe one of the best screeners in the state honestly. It’s a luxury to have someone like him who can do so much,” said May. “I think a lot of people thought we were going to be too big and that our size would hinder the way we wanted to run the floor and that’s OK. Our guys proved just how mobile they really were and that they were more than capable of playing how the team needed them too.”

Though the Panthers didn’t get to finish this season and fully complete the goal they had set at the beginning of the season, one thing they did accomplish was showing everyone in the state they could get to the state tournament.

The story of this Tug Valley team isn’t over, far from it actually.

Tug Valley’s goal was on the tips of their fingers and as it sits directly in front of them; they wait patiently, stalking it, savoring every moment this season has given them as a team, ready to pounce on the opportunity that will come with next season.

The Panthers are going to be dangerous and for anyone who chooses to overlook this squad, a loss may be sure to follow as they will enter next season hungrier and more focused than ever before due to having the chance to complete their goal ripped away from them.

Tug Valley has unfinished business with the state tournament and next season will be the time to get the job done.

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