By Jim Workman
Assistant Managing Editor
Early in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Class AAA state championship game, Woodrow Wilson freshman Nequan Carrington found himself wide open under the opponent’s basket, and the recipient of a quick pass from point guard Andrew Johnson.
But what should have been an easy lay-in bucket would not fall.
Martinsburg senior Donté Grantham swooped in from seemingly nowhere and swatted the shot away with relative ease.
The Flying Eagles were down by just nine points at 45-36, having battled back from a 45-28 deficit to make a contest of it.
But that was a microcosm of the evening, as the veteran Martinsburg club outlasted the young Flying Eagles 57-52.
But the resolve that Woodrow Wilson showed in the second half will likely serve as a catalyst for more things to come in the years ahead.
Down 17 points in the third quarter, the Flying Eagles showed no signs of giving up and were a few possessions away from cutting down the nets themselves.
“You have to give our kids a lot of credit,” said Woodrow Wilson head coach Ron Kidd. “We could have folded. But we showed a lot of guts.”
“We didn’t want to give up,” said Johnson. “I did not want to go out like that. We came a long way; I could not be happier, except if we won the championship.”
Beckley returns its entire roster next season except for Johnson, a senior.
Martinsburg’s five starters are all lost to graduation.
Woodrow was aiming for a 20th consecutive win for the 2012-13 season — one that saw Woodrow Wilson come out of the gates with an unimpressive 4-4 mark in early January.
Three very uncharacteristic home losses this season — played in the shadows of championship banners that already hang from the ceiling of the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center, no less — served as a wakeup call, perhaps.
The trajectory would reverse in historic fashion.
What happened next was an attitude switch.
A revised agenda.
The mantra became “Refuse to Lose.”
That mindset would serve Beckley well over the next several weeks in the pursuit of a championship.
“Everybody counted us out,” Kidd said. “But we bounced back and showed a lot of pride and determination. Those losses built character. Our heart got stronger.”
Woodrow Wilson, the standard of excellence in West Virginia prep hoops for many years, made quite a run.
It was only fitting, in the year celebrating the 100th West Virginia boys basketball state tournament, that Beckley would challenge to increase its record 16 state championship banners.
“We always expect to be here,” Kidd said. “I feel good about our team. We’re scrappy. Good things happen when you work hard.
“We will be back,” Kidd promised. “Our expectations are always to cut down the nets. Our kids have pride, will and determination. They got here this year and got that taste in their mouth. They should want to taste it again.”
n Woodrow Wilson was making its 25th championship game appearance, also a state record.
n The Flying Eagles accomplished four season goals in 2013 — a Big Atlantic Classic championship, a Mountain State Athletic Conference championship, a sectional title and a regional title.
n The path to the title game was paved through MSAC foes this week. Woodrow Wilson eliminated No. 7 seed Hurricane 63-54 in the quarterfinals Wednesday and handed No. 3 South Charleston a 64-57 defeat in the semifinals Friday.
n It may be a long while before Woodrow’s record for state titles of 16 is threatened. The programs with the second most state boys basketball titles in West Virginia are Northfork and Wheeling Central.
Central is the current school with state titles piling up with 10 (seven in Class A and three in Class AA).
Northfork won 10 Class AA championships between 1971 and 1984, including a national record eight consecutive beginning in 1974 and extending through 1981. The McDowell County school closed in 1985, however, and its students consolidated into Mount View.
n Network West Virginia aired the Class AAA championship game live on Suddenlink Channel 2. A replay of the broadcast is scheduled to be shown at 4 p.m. today.
— E-mail: jworkman@