By Cam Huffman
Wyoming East had already seen Liberty blow its chance for a rematch with Westside by falling to Independence in a major upset to begin the sectional bracket. The Warriors weren’t about to let the same thing happen to their chance to get another shot at their biggest rival.
The Class AA No. 5 Warriors (16-7) jumped out fast on Summers County in the Class AA Region 3, Section 1 semifinal Tuesday at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center, opening up an 18-4 first-quarter lead and never looking back on their way to a 71-46 win that sets up a showdown with No. 4 Westside Thursday at the BRCCC.
Wyoming East captured the first battle between the two Wyoming County foes, winning 67-57 on Jan. 4, but the Renegades found revenge in the Big Atlantic Classic on Jan. 30, winning 82-64. The last meeting came on Feb. 8, a 77-75 Westside victory.
The Warriors were hoping they’d get another shot.
“We always look forward to Westside,” said Wyoming East point guard Austin Canada, who scored seven points and continually fed the big men inside during Tuesday’s victory. “It’s always hyped, no matter who’s good and who’s bad. It’s always a close game.
“I had a good feeling we’d get another shot at them. Every seat will be filled.”
Summers County (12-10) — which features one of the area’s most athletic backcourts with Isaiah Brown, TaRon Ayers and T.J. Smith — came out with thoughts of an upset, but Wyoming East was able to impose its will in the early going.
The Warriors were able to exploit the huge size difference between the two teams, getting the ball in the paint to Brett Bowling and Cody Lester for some easy baskets.
On the other end, the Bobcat guards were able to get to the rim, but nothing seemed to fall. Wyoming East denied Summers any second chances, and after starting the game 1-for-11 from the field the Bobcats found themselves behind 21-6 after the opening quarter.
Ayers, the area’s leading scorer, had just two points after the first eight minutes.
“I thought we were tight,” said Summers County head coach James “Pistol” Payne. “Our kids didn’t really follow the game plan. What happened out there is not what we planned to do, believe me. I was really disappointed. It was a lack of poise.”
Summers County was able to put up a fight the rest of the way — Wyoming East outscored the Bobcats just 50-40 over the final three quarters — but it never mounted much of a challenge on the scoreboard.
“When we shoot the ball, we’re hard to beat,” said Wyoming East head coach Rory Chapman. “When we take care of the basketball and don’t turn it over, we’re hard to guard.”
Bowling, Lester and Josh Tunstalle continued to dominate the paint, combining for 43 points. When they weren’t scoring points, they were keeping the Bobcats off the glass, scoring on second chances and limiting Summers to one shot every time down the floor.
“They killed us on the boards,” said Payne. “I don’t know what the final numbers were, but it was at least 2-to-1 and maybe one. Their inside game has hurt us this year every time.”
Ayers picked up the pace a little in the second half, finishing with a team-best 13 points. Smith ended the game with 12.
With the win, the Warriors clinched a spot in a regional final — which will have a trip to the Class AA tournament in Charleston on the line — but their only focus now is on that sectional championship — which will also come with county bragging rights.
“I wouldn’t let them talk about Westside (before Tuesday’s game),” said Chapman. “We only talked about Summers County. But now we can refocus and get ready for Westside.
“It’s one of those games. We’re bitter rivals, and we’ll pack the place out and see what happens.”
An up-and-down season for Summers County that included wins over Shady Spring, Liberty and Greenbrier West, just to name a few, came to an end with the loss.
Despite a winning season, Payne said he’ll remember the campaign more for what could have been than what was.
“It’s all or nothing,” he explained. “We had Wyoming East down five or six in the fourth quarter with about five minutes to go (in a 75-68 loss in early January). We had Bluefield down the same way (in an 84-81 loss).
“It was a season of ups and downs. I just never knew what we were going to have.”
— E-mail: chuffman@
register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.
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Summers County (12-10)
Isaiah Brown 0 0-0 0, TaRon Ayers 4 4-6 13, Josh Graham 4 1-2 9, T.J. Smith 5 2-2 12, Jacob Carr 0 0-0 0, Matt Ryan 4 0-0 8, Ashton Garten 0 2-2 2, Logan McMellon 1 0-0 2. Totals: 18 9-12 46.
Wyoming East (16-7)
Austin Canada 3 0-0 7, Cody Lester 6 0-0 13, Josh Tunstalle 5 3-4 14, Christian Hedinger 4 0-0 10, Brett Bowling 7 2-2 16, Josh Morgan 1 1-1 3, Alec Lusk 2 0-0 4, Jordan Hayes 2 0-0 4. Totals: 30 6-7 71.
SC 6 14 13 13 — 46
WE 21 16 16 18 — 71
3-point goals — SC: 1 (Ayers); WE: 5 (Canada, Lester, Tunstalle, Hedinger 2). Fouled out — None.