It had been a long year for Greater Beckley Christian coach Dan Burd.
His Crusaders had started turning heads a season ago, but had failed to capture a quality win to add to its resumé, losing to eventual Class A champion Tug Valley three times during the 2012-13 season.
On Friday night, Burd’s Class A No. 5 Crusaders (6-0) were finally able to lift the monkey off their backs, knocking off the fourth-ranked Panthers 67-53 in front of a jam-packed Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center crowd.
“It’s definitely off our back,” a proud Burd said. “This was a win we’ve been looking forward to for a while.”
The Crusaders scored early in the game on a pair of Javonne Staunton-Bailey free throws and never looked back, thanks to the stellar play of junior guard Elisha Kidd.
Kidd, the Crusaders’ leading scorer this season with an average of 22.2 points per game, knocked down three 3-pointers and scored 27 points in the victory.
“Elisha is coming into his own,” Burd said. “I think the kid is really showing what he’s capable of. He’s the player that we count on, along with our other guards. I don’t even know what to say about Elisha. He makes shots that are unbelievable and does things with the ball that make your head spin.”
Burd’s head wasn’t the only one Kidd left spinning. The hot shooting guard was a force on both ends of the ball, making Tug Valley turn the ball over and turning those into points in transition.
At one point, Kidd used a crossover that would have made Kobe Bryant proud, getting a Panther defender off his block and burying a 3-pointer.
The normally quiet and reserved Kidd was anything but after the game, realizing the importance of knocking off the No. 4-ranked team in the state.
“It means a lot because we beat the defending state champions,” he said. “It means a lot to our team to come out and get the W.”
It means a lot to Burd as well, as he’s finally seeing his plan of developing Greater Beckley Christian into a contender after arriving at the Prosperity-based private school three years ago.
“I think Greater Beckley is a team that wins,” he said. “We want to win and we refuse to lose. We don’t accept losing anymore.”
And as the Crusaders program is improving, the fan support behind the team is growing. Burd was surprised to see the number of fans who crowded the arena after struggling in the past to fill the small Crusaders’ gym.
“I knew that if we could build the program, we’d get our own fanbase,” he said. “There seem to be a lot more people that are getting interested in what we’re doing now.”
The end result the Crusaders are looking for? A state championship. Something one of them already knows about.
“I asked the guys how bad do they want to win,” said Staunton-Bailey, who won a championship with Oak Hill as a freshman. “All we do is work hard every single day. We treat every single game like it’s a big game. When you want to win a championship, every game has to be a big game.”
Staunton-Bailey has seen his role change this year, moving to the 2-guard position with the incoming freshman phenom Isaiah Francis taking over the point. Now Francis is the young freshman on the team with championship aspirations, just as Staunton-Bailey was a few seasons ago.
“I remember being a freshman and the seniors leading me,” Staunton-Bailey, who scored 13, said. “I tell Isaiah to just keep working and be a leader. He’s a grinder. He’s putting in a lot of work. When you’re on the court it doesn’t matter what grade you’re in. Everyone has to do their part.”
And being a leader? That’s the role Burd is glad to see Staunton-Bailey assume.
“He’s our emotional leader,” he said. “Without him, we wouldn’t be where we are right now.”
And where they are right now is on a mission, to bring Greater Beckley Christian its first ever Class A title.
The Crusaders will return to action Thursday at Cross Lanes Christian.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @JDanielRollins.
Tug Valley (3-2)
Kyle Newsome 2 0-0 6, Aaron Copley 2 1-2 5, Hayden Sturgell 2 3-5 8, Shane Marum 1 2-3 4, Austin Baisden 4 0-0 8, Calvin Blankenship 2 5-10 10, Thomas Baisden 6 3-3 15. Totals: 19 14-23 53.
Greater Beckley Christian (6-0)
Javonne Staunton-Bailey 2 9-13 13, Courtney Walton 1 0-0 2, Elisha Kidd 6 12-13 27, Isaiah Francis 3 3-6 10, Adam Cook 0 0-0 0, Brent Daniels 4 0-0 9, Joseph Cornett 0 0-0 0, Anthony Helton 1 4-4 6. Totals: 17 28-36 67.
TV 9 11 9 24 — 53
GBC 17 15 23 12 — 67
3-point goals — TV: 4 (Newsome 2, Sturgell, Blankenship); GBC: 5 (Kidd 3, Francis, Daniels). Fouled out — None.