By Brian Woodson
For The Register-Herald
Getting to the state championship game was hard. Winning it was fun.
Cutting down the nets was a moment these Bluefield Beavers will never forget.
“You have got to have fun. It is a game you love,” Bluefield junior Michael Yost said. “You have got thousands of people coming out, most college teams don’t even get to come out here so you have got to enjoy the moment.”
After struggling through a pair of early round games in the Class AA state tournament, the Beavers played loose and relaxed and it showed, as Bluefield ran away from Fairmont Senior 63-43 on Saturday afternoon at the Charleston Civic Center to claim the school’s third state basketball championship, and first since 1996.
Bluefield had gone 0-4 in state title games since winning consecutive crowns in 1995-96, but there was no denying the Beavers on this day.
“That was the emphasis. That is what we said before we came out here today,” Bluefield head coach Buster Large said. “We had to relax and if we were just relaxed we were due for a big game.
“This is the greatest feeling in the world, for these kids, for these coaches, for Bluefield High School, the city of Bluefield and the community that has come out to support us all year long.”
Bluefield (25-3) gutted out a pair of early round wins over North Marion (62-51) and Robert C. Byrd (54-48), but this was the Beavers playing at their best in the biggest game of the year.
“We played bad the first two games against North Marion and RCB and we knew we had to step it up with Fairmont Senior,” Bluefield junior Anthony Eades said. “They are great team so we knew we had to step it up. In practice this morning we worked on what we had to do and they told us to relax and just have fun out there and it worked.”
Eades had a championship game to remember, scoring 27 points, including nine in the second, six in the third and eight more in the fourth. He was 9-for-17 from the field and 8-of-8 from the free-throw line.
“It feels great, man, it feels great,” said Eades, who had 24 points in the Beavers’ 58-52 championship game loss to Tug Valley last season. “That loss last year motivated us a lot. We worked hard every day and it paid off.”
Fairmont Senior (21-7) took an early 6-3 lead, but Lykel Collier — who had seven of his 12 points in the opening quarter — led the Beavers on a 10-0 run and a 13-6 lead after the first period. Collier had taken just one shot in the first half in the semifinal win over Robert C. Byrd.
“When I hit that first 3 I knew it was going to be a good day,” said Collier, who hit a 3 to put the Beavers up 3-2 just over two minutes into the game. “I just kept shooting and I was feeling hot.
“Also, I was open and they were double-teaming Anthony and keying on him a lot and my guy would back off of me a little bit and just gave me space and an opportunity to take shots that dropped.”
The Polar Bears’ leading scorer, Travon Horton, picked up three fouls in the first half and a fourth early in the third period — two of which came on charge calls — and finished with just four points.
“Horton is a good player, one of the best players in the state,” Eades said. “We knew we had to drive to the basket hard and we knew we had to take charges and we did a great job of doing that and that got him in foul trouble.”
Jarin Hilson led Fairmont Senior with 11 points and five assists, while Austin Norman canned three 3s and scored 10 points, but the Polar Bears shot just 34.7 percent (17-49) in the game. Shaquille Washington contributed six points, seven boards and five blocked shots.
“It was a big challenge,” said Collier, who has played AAU ball with Hilson. “Me and him are close friends. He is a good ballhandler, he is a good player, but I knew going in that we weren’t friends on the court and I just had to go out and play against him like it is another person guarding me.”
Fairmont Senior was able to trim the lead to 16-14, and Horton followed a 3 by Eades to narrow the margin to 19-16. The Beavers followed with a 7-0 run on another 3 by Eades and two drives to the basket by Yost for a 28-18 lead.
“We got burned a couple of times with how they were pushing the ball and then we were able to slow them down,” Large said. “It was won by playing defense. It was won by playing defense and a lot of movement. A lot of kids just believed and we are true believers today.”
Bluefield continued to make shots, connecting on 11-of-16 shots in the second period, and the Beavers ran off the floor at the break with a 36-23 lead with no turnovers and 51.7 percent (15-29) shooting from the field.
“We got off to a quick lead and we like playing with a lead,” Collier said. “When we jumped to that quick lead we knew we were just playing basketball and having fun.”
That proved to be plenty for Bluefield, which scored the first six points of the second half on a pair of layups by Corey Coppola and two free throws from Eades to take a 19-point lead, an advantage that would still stand as the final period approached.
Yost, who tweaked his right ankle late in the game, added six points for the Beavers, who shot 50 percent (24-48) from the field, including four 3s after making two in the previous two games. Eades also had six rebounds and Collier dished out seven assists.
“It feels amazing, it is really a dream come true, I mean nothing feels better than this,” Yost said. “We worked so hard, after that loss to Tug Valley we really worked every day for this moment right here.”
While much was made of the Bluefield trio of guards heading into the state tournament, the inside presence of Coppola — who had six of his 12 points in the third period — and D.J. Edwards, who had four points and four boards, also played big for the Beavers in three games in Charleston.
“We knew that teams were going to key on those three and we had to step it up and I think me and Corey did good in this tournament,” Edwards said.
Bluefield expanded its lead to as much as 24 before Large cleared the bench and allowed the celebration to begin for a pursuit that began just minutes after last year’s loss in the final game.
“Believe me I am so thankful for being so blessed with the student-athletes that have been sent to us as coaches this year,” Large said. “They sat over here last year and promised they would get back here and they delivered on that promise and they delivered that state championship they wanted so bad.
“There is no more last year. It is a new year and we are state champions.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org