Setting the Stage: North Marion and Philip Barbour to face off in AAA State Championship

A look back at the paths to the title game for both teams
Olivia Toland and Braylyn Sparks
Olivia Toland and Braylyn Sparks(WDTV)
Published: Mar. 11, 2023 at 4:17 AM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va (WDTV) - It’s been a tale of two cities for class AAA.

In Philippi, the Philip Barbour Colts were seen as an underdog. As the six seed entering the tournament, the team squeaked its way into the spotlight. A win over RCB in the regional final was found in overtime. Philip Barbour never led in that contest, winning the game in the final moments.

Meanwhile, in Farmington, North Marion had been the top dog. The team earned a number one seed, losing just one game all year in the regular season - a loss to the two-seeded Wayne Pioneers. As the two teams that traded the top spot of the AP Poll all season, they were the favorites during pregame chatter.

“I don’t think anyone can beat North Marion or Wayne,” was a statement that seemingly echoed throughout the hallways of the Charleston Civic Center. No one saw a different outcome coming.

But then teams began to fall.

Philip Barbour’s Road to the State Title Game

Philip Barbour, in the first game of the AAA tournament, defeated East Fairmont, the three seed, to secure advancement to the state semifinals. The Bees had defeated the Colts twice in the regular season, and while the ‘it is hard to beat someone three times’ trope is overplayed, it was proven true.

Game 1: East Fairmont 70 - Philip Barbour 54

Game 2: East Fairmont 66 - Philip Barbour 48 in the sectional championship just weeks prior.

Game 3, in Charleston: East Fairmont 45 - Philip Barbour 62.

With the win, Philip Barbour advanced, stunning North Central West Virginia, the state and the fans of the Bees that lined the Civic Center for the first time in 16 years.

For the Colts, it was their first state tournament win, one year after the school’s first appearance.

Despite the matchup being Philip Barbour’s second state tournament trip, the win seemed to come from experience. The team has now been a part of just two state tournament appearances for basketball, but the team has seen championships.

“Basketball is not our primary sport,” said Arrington Sparks as she looked down the row of athletes in the postgame press conference.

Braylyn and Arrington Sparks both are primarily soccer players. MacKenna Halfin is primarily a volleyball player. The three of them have action in multiple state championship games this year. Philip Barbour repeated as the AA state champions in volleyball in the fall while the Colts’ soccer team claimed its second consecutive runner up as well.

The Colts never trailed in the matchup with the Bees.

In their semifinals matchup, they faced off with another Cinderella - 7 seed Sissonville.

The Indians knocked off Wayne in the first round, sending a roar through the Civic Center. David had taken down Goliath.

It happened a second time. Philip Barbour never trailed in their matchup with Sissonville, winning 53-44. One week removed from a game in which the team never led, the Colts are now chasing a championship in a bracket where they have yet to trail.

North Marion’s Road to the State Title Game

Fans of the North Marion Huskies likely entered the Charleston Civic Center with butterflies in their stomach.

The three seed, East Fairmont, had fallen.

The two seed, Wayne, had fallen.

The one seed, North Marion, survived. They toppled Hampshire in round one to advance to their third consecutive state semifinal.

Those who reside outside of North Marion’s zip code may not know about their ability to give out Chicken McNuggets. Everyone inside of it has been eating.

In January, the team partnered with their local chain with a deal: 60 points and a win, 10 free nuggets to everyone in North Marion.

North Marion followed through, doing so 15 times in the last 19 games this season - poor chickens. The team has not lost since their first matchup of the season.

However, the state tournament has been more like the sauce that comes with some of those nuggets, sweet and sour.

In 2022, the Huskies fell to the eventual champion Logan.

In 2021, the Huskies fell to the eventual champion Nitro.

In 2020, the team was fresh off of a win over then AA Bridgeport when the tournament was shut down due to the pandemic. The tournament never concluded. North Marion finished 25-1 as the number 1 seed.

The Huskies were due for a state championship appearance. It finally found them with 10 seconds remaining in the final quarter of their semifinals matchup with Ripley.

Tied at 43, Emma Freels drove into a wide open lane. Her layup fell. 45-43. The Huskies got redemption, heading to the state championship.

Championship Saturday

“The Big 10 is loaded,” said Philip Barbour head coach Rick Mouser.

The Big X combined for 176 wins overall this season. Three teams surpassed 20 wins and half of the AAA state tournament was made up of its competitors.

The championship matchup for the state of West Virginia features two teams from the region.

In the regular season, North Marion defeated Philip Barbour 79-69.

Philip Barbour has yet to trail in the state tournament.

North Marion has not lost a game since December.

Two unstoppable forces will collide at 7:30 on Saturday for the state title.