The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 16, 2013

Eagles claw back, fall just short

Martinsburg holds off late rally by Woodrow to win Class AAA title

By Cam Huffman
Sports Editor

CHARLESTON — No. 17 will have to wait.

Going for its 17th state championship and its 20th straight win Saturday at the Charleston Civic Center, No. 2 Woodrow Wilson ran into two things it just couldn’t match — height and experience.

No. 1 Martinsburg (26-2) used its size in the paint and its senior-laden lineup to hand the Flying Eagles their first loss since Jan. 10, a 57-52 Martinsburg victory that gave the Bulldogs, who also won the state football championship in December, their third boys basketball crown.

“It’s nice to be the state champions,” said Martinsburg head coach Dave Rogers, who watched his club become the first AAA team in state history to win football and basketball championships in the same school year. “I told our players before the game, ‘You can sneak back into town if you don’t win it, or you can go out and win a state title and come back to fanfare.’ Not only did they win the state tournament, this is a special one, because it was the (100th state tournament).”

It wasn’t as if Woodrow (23-5) didn’t make things interesting.

Down 45-28 with three minutes to play in the third quarter, the Flying Eagles looked as though they may be blown out of the building. But Beckley, which turned a 4-4 start to the season into a championship run after adopting the “Refuse to Lose” motto, wasn’t about to go down quietly.

The Flying Eagles turned up the defense, limited the turnovers and used the support of a large cheering section to go on a 14-0 run, holding the Bulldogs scoreless for nearly seven minutes.

“I give our kids a whole lot of credit,” said Woodrow Wilson head coach Ron Kidd. “We could have folded up the tents, but we showed a whole lot of heart and guts. I give Martinsburg a lot of credit. That’s why they’ve been No. 1 all year.

“We got a little more aggressive and a little more tough,” he continued of his team’s run. “We kept playing hard.”

With 4:30 left on the clock, it was suddenly anybody’s game, with Woodrow Wilson trailing 45-42.

Woodrow actually pulled even closer, getting within two, 51-49, with 1:11 to play, but the Flying Eagles had to foul and Martinsburg made its free throws down the stretch. The Bulldogs also converted a big steal into points on the other end in the closing seconds to put the game away and send the Flying Eagles home as runners-up.

Martinsburg’s biggest advantage came on second-chance points, where it outscored Beckley 24-8, using its size advantage for some easy putbacks. The Bulldogs won the rebound battle 41-32 as the Flying Eagles couldn’t find an answer for 6-foot-7 Donté Grantham and 6-9 Eugene German in the paint.

With West Virginia University basketball coach Bob Huggins watching from behind the Martinsburg bench, Grantham — who already has some college offers and is hoping to get one from the Mountaineers soon — played like a state player of the year candidate, scoring 20 points, grabbing 17 rebounds and blocking three shots. He was a perfect 7-for-7 at the free-throw line and dished out four assists.

“I just tried to keep the team together,” said Grantham, who admitted he saw Huggins around the midway point of the game. “As a senior, I had to be a leader and keep us together. I was proud to get us a championship that we worked hard for.”

Jalen Lewis, a 6-foot-2 senior and the other double-figure scorer in the Bulldog lineup, got his points, as well. He scored 13, none bigger than Martinsburg’s only field goal of the final quarter, an easy layin off of a Jordan Robinson steal that made the score 54-49 with inside a minute to play, virtually putting the game on ice.

“They threw the pass up in the air, and they put too much air under it,” said Lewis, who also had four rebounds and three assists. “I saw Jordan break on the ball, so I released and I got the layup.”

Beckley, though, had some big performances of its own, especially from its only senior, Andrew Johnson, who did everything in his power to try to avoid ending his high school career with a loss.

The Woodrow point guard scored 15 of his team-high 19 points in the second half, helping spark the late Flying Eagle run. He was 6-for-12 from the field and also led his team with four assists.

“I just didn’t want to give up,” said Johnson, who also led the Woodrow football team to the playoffs as a standout quarterback. “I said after the first half, ‘I’m not going out like this.’”

The other big scorer was Johnson’s opposite, freshman big man Nequan Carrington. The 6-3 rookie handled the big stage well, scoring 12 points and pulling down four boards.

Woodrow, though, dug its hole in the opening half when Martinsburg scored 10 points off turnovers and 14 second-chance points to open up a 30-23 lead at the break that could have actually been worse.

The Flying Eagles, perhaps feeling the pressure of the stage, made some uncharacteristic turnovers and forced some shots they don’t usually take.

That trend continued out of the locker room, as Martinsburg scored the first four points of the second half, but when things finally clicked for Beckley, the Flying Eagles made the Bulldogs sweat.

Martinsburg didn’t score a single point for the final 3:13 of the third quarter, and it wasn’t until Grantham knocked down a free throw with 4:07 left in the game that the Bulldogs ended their dry spell.

By that time, Woodrow was within striking distance, setting up an exciting finish that gave the fans plenty of value for their money.

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Woodrow Wilson and Martinsburg each landed three players on the all-tournament team. Johnson, Carrington and Donté Nabors — who didn’t have his best night in the championship game, finishing with just nine points — all made the squad for Beckley, while Grantham, Lewis and German, who was big in the opening half Saturday and scored eight points to go along with four rebounds, took the honors for Martinsburg.

Dominique Newman (Washington) and Keldon Bell (Washington) were the other all-tournament honorees from Class AAA.

— E-mail: chuffman@ and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.