By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
After Thursday night’s heavyweight battle between the No. 4 Westside Renegades and the No. 5 Wyoming East Warriors, the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center may want to rename itself the “Wyoming County Convention Center in Beckley.”
The Renegade Rowdies, the wild Wyoming East student section (complete with a student in a Warrior costume) and many more Wyoming County faithful packed the house that Dave Barksdale built for the Section 3, Region 1 championship.
While both teams have already punched their ticket to the regional finals, this one was for more than bragging rights — the winner will most likely move on to host PikeView while the loser would travel to take on the No. 1 team in the state, Bluefield.
For the third straight time, Westside defeated their county rival, giving Nick Cook his first sectional championship as coach of the Renegades by a score of 65-60.
Westside led by as many as 18 points, but the No. 5 Warriors fought back, making it a 3-point game late in the fourth quarter. However, it would be the gut and drive of the Renegades that propelled them to victory.
Westside’s chances looked bleak early in the first quarter when junior guard Levi Lambert picked up his second foul, and leading scorer Corey Bowles was carried off the court with an ankle injury.
“I didn’t think we could face any more adversity than we did earlier this season,” Westside’s Nick Cook said. “Right off the bat it happened. This team had to do their job. Someone went in and made a big play. It didn’t matter who I put in there, they had to play. That’s what I expect my kids to do.”
“I was pretty nervous at that point; I thought we were in serious trouble,” Westside forward Justin Cogar said. “Luckily Corey came back in and helped pick us back up.”
Bowles, channeling Willis Reed, hobbled on to the court with a taped-up ankle and immediately hit a big 3-pointer to help his team extend their lead.
“It’s terrible right now,” Bowles said of the ankle. “I’m going to put some ice on it and hope it feels better tomorrow.”
The win gives Westside home court in the regional final against either PikeView or Bluefield. It’s an advantage that Nick Cook likes.
“With this cheering section the way they are, I don’t know if anyone would come into our gym and deal with the Renegade Rowdies,” Cook said.
The “Renegade Rowdies” were in full effect. The student section filled the seats behind the Wyoming East bench leading cheers, songs and chants that reverberated through the halls of the Convention Center.
“I want to go on record. We have the best student section in the state,” Bowles said.
Bowles teammates echoed those sentiments.
“It’s everything. Our cheering section is great. They’ve had three games in three nights. That’s the game-changer right there,” Lambert said.
“It makes us play hard when we got a whole lot of people cheering for us,” Will Fox said.
“It makes us win to win for our school,” Justin Kenneda said.
“That crowd out there gets us hyped up; it gets us in the game. It gets us going and keeps us going. They’re half the team. They’re following us all the way states,” Jason Scarlett said.
If the Renegades do make it to Charleston, there’s at least one person hoping the “Battle of Wyoming County,” Part 5 happens.
“Westside has a nice team,” Wyoming East coach Rory Chapman said. “Hopefully we get another chance at them in Charleston. We’ll see.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins
Wyoming East (16-8)
Austin Canada 7 1-4 16, Cody Lester 1 2-3 4, Josh Tunstalle 5 6-8 17, Joseph Cornett 0 0-0 0, Christian Hedinger 2 3-5 8, Brett Bowling 4 7-7 15, Alec Lusk 0 0-0 0. Totals: 19 19-27 60.
Will Fox 5 1-2 13, Jordan Browning 1 0-0 3, Corey Bowles 6 2-3 17, Justin Kenneda 1 5-7 7, Levi Lambert 3 7-8 14, Jason Scarlett 1 0-0 2, Justin Cogar 3 0-0 6, Matt Harless 1 1-2 3. Totals: 21 16-22 65
WE 10 14 7 29 — 60
WS 11 21 14 19 — 65
3-pointers: WE 3 (Canada, Tunstalle, Hedinger). W: 7 (Bowles 3, Fox 2, Browning, Lambert). Fouled Out – W: Bowles.