As the month of February rolls along, it signals the start of high school's version of March Madness.
Girls postseason play begins in less than two weeks, and Friday night's game between Bridgeport and Grafton showed why for the second straight year, the most anticipated and entertaining regional could be the girls Region II. The Indians rallied in the final minute of regulation to force overtime and eventually claim a 55-52 victory.
With Class AA No. 2 Ritchie County (15-2) and Grafton (12-6) in one section and No. 1 Bridgeport (20-0) in the other, this figures to be the most competitive and toughest road to the state tournament in Charleston. The same region sported last season's No. 1 team, Lincoln, which fell in the final to Bridgeport in front of a near sellout crowd at Robert C. Byrd High School.
Two players from Region II are certain locks for first-team All-State -- Bridgeport's Erica Rome and Ritchie County's Missy Spangler. However, there are also the Indians' Theresa Melko (14.8 ppg.), Grafton's Sheena Zbosnik (12.7 ppg.) and Heather McDaniel (11.6 ppg.) and Ritchie County's Lucinda Huffman, who could make a push, as well.
After holding off the Bearcats, it doesn't get any easier for Bridgeport. Ritchie County visits the Indians Wednesday in arguably one of the state's premier contests.
n NEARING A MILESTONE: Grafton's Sheena Zbosnik needs just two points to eclipse the 1,000-point mark for her career. The Bearcats host Clay-Battelle on Monday and visit Philip Barbour on Friday.
n NO RESPECT: At 12-6, Grafton didn't garner one vote in the latest girls Class AA poll.
"I guess my question to the sports writers in the state would be why we're not deserving of any ranking," Grafton coach Rich Bord said just after his team's overtime loss at Bridgeport.
Actually, the rankings are voted on solely by the coaches. But the point is well taken. Three of Grafton's losses have come to the No. 1 Indians, another to No. 5 Tucker County (a team it defeated at home), Class AAA Lewis County and Clay-Battelle (13-5).
n WHERE ARE THE FANS?: Regardless of the event, Robert C. Byrd-Bridgeport is always a highly energized atmosphere. Not that it needed another hype, but Thursday's boys basketball contest could ultimately prove to be for the Big 10 title.
However, there was one glaring absence from the game -- the Indians student section. They've sported pastel leisure suits, battle fatigues and striped tights in the past, making them one of the most recognizable and vocal features at the events. Until the final minutes of the Eagles' 63-58 win, Thursday's game was much less intense than those in the past.
n DON'T COUNT THEM OUT: Despite falling to Parkersburg in the Region II swimming championship, Bridgeport coach Jan Grisso still likes her team's chances at this week's state championship at West Virginia University. The Indians have won four straight state titles, going undefeated along the way until this season.
"I still think we have the potential to do it again, and I think our girls do, too," Grisso said. "We don't have as much depth as we've had in the past, and that's a concern, but I think there are some teams who think we're done and have no chance. I wouldn't overlook us."
Sports writer Mike Nutter can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.