ELLENBORO, W.Va. – When the Ritchie County boys basketball team stepped on the court inside the Charleston Coliseum on Wednesday, they made school history.
“Thinking that we’re the only kids from Ritchie County that’s played on that court, it was awesome. It was great,” said senior Graden McKinney on Wedneday.
“The atmosphere was crazy. I knew it was going to be crazy. I wanted to always come down here and play. Wish we could do it again,” added sophomore Ethan Haught.
But in order to make history in Charleston on Wednesday, they had to make history six days prior. The Rebels, playing in just their third-ever regional round game, won their first-ever regional title.
“Coming into this season we didn’t expect to do this. And then more towards the end (of the season) it started to become more of a goal. After we got that St. Marys win we were ready for it. … “I mean, (the Regional game against Wirt) was probably one of the biggest games we’ve had here for a long time. It just made everyone feel good around us. Like, you saw Rick (Haught) after the game. He was over there in tears. So, it was nice to do that for our community.”Graden McKinney, Ritchie County senior guard, at practice on Monday
“It’s crazy because you’ll get talked about for years and years to come. Middle schoolers now will play in high school and they’ll be like, ‘Well they made it to states so we can too., it just gives everyone hope and you’ll always be talked about,” Haught said at practice on Monday.
The Rebels, who are on a six-game win streak entering the state tournament, began building momentum late in the season.
Their two most-recent games against St. Marys — a four-point loss on March 30, and a two-point, buzzer-beating victory in the sectional title game — showed the players they had a chance to make this season special.
It also showed the community they had another team to support.
“This community is great. As soon as they heard about us beating St. Marys everyone wanted to come to that Thursday game. Everyone’s been asking for tickets,” McKinney said. “That we have a whole county behind us? It’s great. It pushes you to do a lot more. When you walk through the town of Harrisville and everyone’s saying, ‘How are you?’ ‘I love seeing you all play.” It makes you want to do more.”
Ritchie County High School’s athletics teams have excelled in other sports, such as track & field, cross country and football. But Rebels Nation hasn’t seen team success like this on the basketball court ever before.
It took 18 points from Haught, 12 points from McKinney and Wyatt Flesher Thursday, and contributions up and down the roster all season long.
The Rebels played in the state tournament for the first time on Wednesday.
Stepping on the court in the capital city made them historic, in terms of school history.
Winning their school’s first regional title last Thursday earned them the recognition of Honda Athletes of the Week.