The plan was to slow down Anthony Eades and Lykel Collier, and Wyoming East did just that.
That left Michael Yost open, and he made toast of the Warriors, scoring 17 of his 20 points in the opening quarter, and the Beavers pulled away from Wyoming East for a 72-56 Region 3 co-championship on Wednesday night at the Brushfork Armory.
Bluefield (22-3) returns to the Charleston Civic Center next week — possibly as the top seed — for the Class AA state tournament.
“Three more games,” said Yost, whose Beavers reached the championship game last season and lost to Tug Valley.
The Beavers, who have lost four times in the finals since 1997, last won state championships on the court in 1995-96.
“It is nice to get back to Charleston; there is no better feeling in the world,” Bluefield head coach Buster Large said. “We were disappointed by losing last year, and this is a new year. I know what these kids have in the back of their mind — and the coaching staff — and we are going to take it one game at a time.”
Wyoming East, which has its own tradition of championships, winning titles in 2007-08 and losing in the finals the next two years, tied the score at 37 at the break, but never led, losing for a third time to the Beavers.
“They have got a tremendous team, three of the best guards you are going to see in AA; they are tough matchup for anybody,” Wyoming East head coach Rory Chapman said. “I think three of the best five teams in the state are all in this region. We played two of them in back-to-back games, and I think we are the third one.
“I think both them and Westside will represent southern West Virginia well.”
Bluefield placed four players in double figures, led by Yost with 20 points and five steals. Eades was held to one field goal, but was 14-for-14 from the free throw line for 16 points, while Collier added 10 points, 11 assists and four steals.
“(Eades) got one field goal, we worked hard on it, and we worked hard on him and Collier both and we limited both of them,” Chapman said. “Both probably got below their average, but it just wasn’t enough tonight.
D.J. Edwards added 13 points and Corey Coppola had nine for the Beavers.
“I am excited, this was our goal at the beginning of the season,” Collier said. “We always wanted to get back to Charleston because we had a bad taste in our mouth from last year. We are just going to take it one game at a time because it is the best eight teams in the state.”
Wyoming East will lose just one senior starter in 6-foot-4 Brett Bowling, who led the Warriors with 22 points, while 6-4 freshman Cody Lester added 14. That duo combined for 22 points in the opening half.
“We only lose one senior that played a lot of minutes...,” Chapman said. “We have got some good young guys coming. It is the offseason now for us, it is time to get back to work for these young kids.”
Wyoming East used a triangle-in-one to limit Eades and Collier to just two points each in the first half, but Yost had 17 in the opening quarter, including three of his four 3s as the Beavers took a 13-2 lead and built it to 28-17 after the opening period.
Eades, who averages 20 points a game, had just two free throws in the first half.
Coppola and Edwards combined for 22 points, including 12 in the second half, while helping to push the Wyoming East big men away from the basket, making it difficult for the Warriors to score.
Bluefield will learn its first opponent when the Class AA seedings are released this weekend. Large hopes to have a large contingent of fans along for the ride, much like that had on this night in their final game of the season at the Armory.
“I am so proud of these young men and I especially want to thank the Bluefield fans, the Bluefield crowd and Bluefield High School which came out and supported us,” Large said. “There was a lot more people, not just from Bluefield and they came over and got behind us tonight.
“Let me tell something, that has really, really meant a lot to us and I hope that support follows us up next week.”
— E-mail: bwoodson
Wyoming East (16-9)
Austin Canada 1 3-3 5, Cody Lester 7 0-0 14, Josh Tunstalle 2 1-2 6, Christian Hedinger 2 0-0 5, Brett Bowling 8 6-7 22, John Morgan 1 0-0 2, Tyler Lester 1 0-0 2. Totals 22 10-12 56.
D.J. Edwards 5 3-4 13, Anthony Eades 1 14-14 16, Lykel Collier 3 3-7 10, Michael Yost 8 0-0 20, Corey Coppola 4 1-3 9, Jordan Ponder 2 0-0 4. Totals 23 21-28 72.
Wyoming East 18 19 10 9 — 56
Bluefield 27 10 16 19 — 72
3-point goals — WE: 2 (Tunstalle 1, Hedinger 1); BF: 5 (Yost 4, Collier 1); Fouled out — WE: Canada, BF: Edwards.