Make that nine straight.
The Class AA Bluefield Beavers (11-1) haven’t been touched since losing to Class AAA rival Princeton early in the season, and that didn’t change Monday on the opening day of the Big Atlantic Classic at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.
Class AA No. 8 Westside (9-6) put up a valiant effort, but the Beavers’ pressure defense and the hot hand of junior Michael Yost proved to be too much as Bluefield moved on to Saturday’s Class AA championship game with a 67-54 victory.
“We played a very good team tonight,” said Bluefield head coach Buster Large. “They were well-prepared, and we were very fortunate to get out of here with a win.”
A 37-36 contest with 3 minutes to go in the third quarter turned on the final play of that frame when Yost knocked down a high-arching 3-pointer from well behind the stripe as the buzzer sounded to end the quarter, turning a three-point Beaver lead into a six-point advantage.
“I think that was the key,” said Large. “We were able to get a little breathing room, and then we did a good job taking care of the ball late in the game.”
Yost, who finished with 17 points and three rebounds, hit two more longballs in the final quarter, never letting Westside get within striking distance, and Anthony Eades, the Beavers’ talented junior guard, got in a groove, driving to the basket for easy runners as Bluefield extended its lead to double figures to hold off the upset bid.
Eades finished with 19 points and five rebounds, and Lykel Collier gave the Beavers a third double-figure scorer with 17 points and three assists.
Despite all that, Westside made a game of it by shooting 46 percent from the field and forcing 22 Bluefield turnovers. The Renegades also won the battle on the glass, outrebounding the Beavers 26-22.
Corey Bowles was Westside’s biggest offensive weapon. The 6-foot-2 junior finished with 20 points and three assists. Sophomore big man Justin Cogar battled foul trouble to finish with 16 points and six boards.
“They really played a great game,” said Large. “They were ready for us.”
The Renegades were clearly thinking upset out of the locker room, and after a back-and-forth game in the opening minutes the Renegades went on a 7-2 run, sparked by solid defense and some clutch outside shooting. Down 19-12 just before the close of the opening quarter, Bluefield was forced to take a timeout to settle its players.
“We knew it would be a battle and it was not going to be an easy path,” said Large. “Everybody’s waiting for us. So we have to be ready. It can happen any night. Everybody’s ready for you when you’re the No. 1 team in the state.”
Whatever he said in the huddle worked to perfection, as Bluefield got into the face of the Renegades, forced turnovers and turned them into points at the other end.
The Beavers used an 11-0 run to pull back in front and take a 24-19 lead.
“We needed that,” said Large. “We were doing a lot of standing around and weren’t running our offense. We got moving and got a couple of turnovers.
“We’re a pressure team. Our defense has been responsible for a lot of our wins, and I think they were responsible for this one.”
Westside battled over the course of the final minutes and trailed just 28-25 at the halftime break, but the Renegades never led again, although the game was tied seven times.
Bluefield will play the winner of Wyoming East and Robert C. Byrd — who will play tonight at 9 p.m. — in Saturday’s Class AA championship game at 2 p.m., and Large said the Beavers will have to be on their game.
“We have to play better and rebound better,” he said. “It’s going to get tougher, but I’m just glad that we’re playing in the championship round.”
Westside will play the loser of that Wyoming East-Robert C. Byrd game Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.
— E-mail: chuffman@
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Jordan Browning 0 0-0 0, Corey Bowles 8 0-1 20, Justin Kenneda 3 0-0 7, Levi Lambert 3 2-2 9, Justin Cogar 7 2-3 16, Dillon Newsome 0 0-0 0, Will Fox 0 0-0 0, Jason Scarlett 0 2-4 2, Matt Harless 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 6-10 54.
Brandon Lilly 0 0-0 0, David Edwards 2 5-7 9, Anthony Eades 4 11-12 19, Lykel Collier 7 2-3 17, Michael Yost 6 2-2 17, Jordan Ponder 0 0-0 0, David Woodrum 1 0-0 2, Corey Coppola 0 3-5 3, Matthew Woodrum 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 23-29 67.
W 19 6 11 18 — 54
B 14 14 14 25 — 67
3-pointers — W: 6 (Bowles 4, Kenneda, Lambert); B: 4 (Yost 3, Collier). Fouled out — W: Lambert; B: none.