For a few hours on a Saturday in February, the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center felt more like a Saturday in March inside the Charleston Civic Center.
Fans from Itmann to Kopperston and every Wyoming County community in between flooded the Convention Center, clad in silver or green to see their boys do battle.
It was the second matchup in the rabid rivalry between No. 3 Wyoming East and No. 5 Westside. The last time the two Class AA schools met, it was the Warriors who walked out of Clear Fork victorious — just as they did a year ago.
And just as the storybook of Wyoming County basketball is written, it appears history is bound to repeat itself.
It was the Renegades (9-2) who left Beckley with a victory over the Warriors (9-2), just as they did a year ago — only this time, they left with a trophy after a 61-57 win.
“This place is slowly becoming one of our favorite places to play,” Westside coach Nick Cook said. “The kids like it here, the fans like it here. We like coming to Beckley.”
While Cook may have liked Beckley at the end of the game, he wasn’t the biggest fan for the first 16 minutes. Wyoming East dominated Westside early, leading 32-23 and outrebounding the Renegades 21-8.
It didn’t stop there. The Renegades managed to get only a combined 10 points of offense from their three big producers of Justin Cogar, Levi Lambert and Corey Bowles, which was matched by the 10 points of East sophomore Logan Blankenship.
The Renegades shot a paltry 29.2 percent in the first half, compared to the 48.1 percent of the Warriors.
But much like the sunshine breaking through on a rainy day, so did the Renegades, fueled by Cogar.
The junior post attacked the basket, grabbing rebounds and scoring putbacks to bring Westside back within striking distance, ending the third quarter trailing East 45-43.
After going the first half of the fourth quarter without a basket scored, Westside broke through when Bowles knocked down a 3-pointer and followed it up with a free throw to give the Renegades their first lead of the game.
However, Blankenship wouldn’t let East out of it, knocking down a 3 to give East the lead back.
But once again, a fired up Cogar took over with 3:24 to play, scoring to give the Renegades the lead, one they wouldn’t give up the rest of the game.
“We just started trying to get the ball out in transition,” Cogar said. “It’s frustrating. You want to get things right, especially in games like this, but you can’t be too worried about your own offensive game. When I have bad games like that I try, if I’m open. I’ll take the shot, but if I got other guys open I’ve just got to keep playing our game. We just try to get open shots and keep that pace.”
After the game, a spent yet excited Cook gave credit to Wyoming East for a tough game.
“They probably run their half court sets better than anybody we’ve played this year,” he said. “I give them all the credit in the world for that. That’s why we tried to go into the full court traps and the presses to try to speed them up and get them to take some rushed shots and not be able to run through their sets as much as they did. That’s when we got the ball inside to Cogar finally. He was 0-for-1 in the first quarter and had 14 second-half points. That right there is the difference in the game.”
Keeping Cogar out of foul trouble was also key, something the Renegades have struggled with this season. As a team, Westside only gave up 12 personal fouls, compared to 19 for East. That gave Westside more chances at the line, where they shot 87.5 percent.
“We stayed out of foul trouble pretty good,” Cook said. “Jordan (Browning) ended up with four, but we’re starting to get better at that. We’ve lost that over the last couple weeks and we’re starting to play smarter and moving our feet on defense. So far that started with the Bluefield game and carried over today.”
It wasn’t the same for East, which finished with three players at four fouls, while also not getting a single point from its bench.
“Westside is a really good team and when you get something that you think is a good lineup against them you go with it,” coach Rory Chapman said. “I thought the first lineup was really good but we got into some foul trouble and that hurt us inside.”
While it was still a loss, the game served as a coming out party for Blankenship, who finished with 18 points.
“Logan Blankenship came here last year as a ninth grader and he wasn’t even close to being a varsity basketball player,” Chapman said. “But in the offseason he’s been in the weight room and he just wants to get better. It all came to life today and he really put a good game together. I’m proud of him for that.”
While close friends Cook and Chapman may hope for another matchup in the sectional championship game and eventually the state tournament in Charleston, they won’t have to wait that long.
The teams will play in the rubber match Friday in New Richmond.
Wyoming East (9-2)
Austin Canada 5 2-2 15, John Morgan 3 3-4 9, Logan Blankenship 6 3-3 18, Christian Hedinger 4 2-2 12, Jordan Hayes 1 1-2 3, Jacob Dulcie 0 0-0 0, Taron Ayers 0 0-0 0, David Carte 0 0-0 0. Totals: 19 11-13 57.
Will Fox 3 2-2 8, Corey Bowles 4 7-9 16, Justin Kenneda 2 6-6 11, Levi Lambert 2 2-2 6, Justin Cogar 7 2-3 16, Jordan Browning 1 2-2 4. Totals: 19 21-24 61.
WE 15 17 13 12 — 57
W 12 11 20 18 — 61
3-point goals — WE: 8 (Canada 3, Blankenship 3, Hedinger 2); W: 2 (Bowles, Kenneda) Fouled out — none.