First year Independence head coach Mike Green had no idea his team was on the cusp of something historic Tuesday night in the Class AA Region 3, Section 1 semifinal game against Oak Hill played at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.
When the final horn sounded, the Patriots were on the better side of 53-47 decision. It was a win which guaranteed the Patriots a spot in one of next week's Region 3 co-final games for the first time since the inception of that type of format.
"I don't know a lot of the history of the program," Green admitted. "When I got the job in mid-December, I was focussed on learning my players and the strengths of my players. Regardless of history, they have just worked so hard and they have had that "refuse to lose" attitude. Tonight, I told them we had four seniors, don't send them home with a lackluster effort."
Since that sectional format change which provided both championship teams a spot in the regional round, Independence has been forced to battle perennial powers Wyoming East, Oak Hill and Westside to make the championship round, only to come up just short.
Powered by 18 points from Atticus Goodson, 16 points from Zach Bolen and some big shots down the stretch, Indy brought that frustrating streak to an end.
"Such a great win for these kids and a big win for the program," Green said. "Zach has been Mr. Steady for us. He is the catalyst for what we do. As Zach goes, we go. (Atticus) hurt his ankle and missed about three weeks during the season. He was a little slow coming back and was a little timid on the ankle, but, the last two games he has really picked it up and played big for us."
Leading 35-31 with eight minutes to play in the game, Indy saw the lead disappear quickly when Hunter Rinehart scored two of his 16 points on the night and Jacob Perdue nailed a shot from behind the arc. Perdue finished with a team-high 17 points for Oak Hill.
Over the next two minutes, the lead would change hands four times with the Red Devils holding a 42-39 lead at the 5:12 mark.
A clutch 3 from Carter Adkins tied the game for Indy before Rinehart gave the Red Devils their final lead on another bucket inside the arc with 2:39 left in the game.
"We had three keys tonight," Green said. "I have told the kids since the first day I got here the only thing they can control is their effort and intensity. Even when we made mistakes tonight, we were playing hard."
"The third key was we had to take care of the basketball," Green continued. "In the first half, we struggled with that and we had too many turnovers. We were fortunate to be down just two at halftime. We just challenged them and they came out and played well."
Jarred Cannady hit a tough runner in the lane to tie the game at 44-apiece, before Michael McKinney pulled up in transition for a 3 that gave the Patriots the lead for good.
Oak Hill could only manage a Jason Manns 3 down the stretch, while Goodson and McKinney sealed the game at the line for Indy.
After getting the game they wanted, the final two minutes proved to be the Red Devils undoing.
"We missed some shots that we normally make right there. I thought we got the game we wanted as far as where the score needed to be for us to win the game," Oak Hill head coach Benitez Jackson said. "We just didn't hit enough shots and we didn't get anything at the rim. Even when we were driving to the basket, we weren't finishing and we didn't make our foul shots. Little things like that matter when you are in a close game."
The second game of the evening was the fourth matchup between Wyoming County foes, Westside and Wyoming East. Although the young Warriors put up a strong fight most of the night, the experience of the Renegades was too much down the stretch.
Evan Colucci scored a game-high 17 points and Jace Colucci added 13 points in a 61-49 triumph to send the Renegades to the sectional championship game against Independence, Thursday at 7 p.m. inside the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.
"(Wyoming East) has some young players and they are improving," Westside head coach Shawn Jenkins said. "We wanted to put pressure on the younger players and try to make them make mistakes and capitalize on them. Evan stepped up and played really well for us tonight. He did a really good job of using his body and extending to the goal for some key 3-point plays."
In an ironic twist, Thursday's sectional championship game will be the first meeting of the season between thew two winners.
"I honestly don't know anything about them," Jenkins said. ' I watched them a little bit tonight and a little bit earlier in the year. I am sure I will gather some game film and get busy putting together a game plan. They are long and kinda tall. We will just go out there and try to play our kind of basketball and see what happens."
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Oak Hill (8-14)
Jacob Perdue 17, Jason Manns 8, Hunter Rinehart 16, Omar Lewsi 2, Darian McDowell 9, Cam Craddock 1. Totals: 18 2-9 47.
Michael McKinney 7, Jarred Cannady 9, Zach Bolen 16, Atticus Goodson 18, Carter Adkins 3. Totals: 20 10-11 53.
OH: 11 14 6 16 — 47
I: 8 15 12 18 — 53
3-point goals: OH: 9 (Perdue 3, Manns 2, Rinehart 3, McDowell), I: 3 (McKinney, Cannady, Adkins). Fouled out: None
Wyoming East (7-16)
Tucker Cook 5, Garrett Mitchell 11, Jacob Bishop 10, Anthony Martin 7, Chandler Johnson 1, Jacob Howard 3, Nathan Parsons 5, Randy Raye 5, Tanner Cook 2. Totals: 12 20-29 49.
Jace Colucci 13, Daniel Reed 11, Ethan Blackburn 9, Evan Colucci 17, Tommy Milam 6, Wesley Browning 1, Shandell Adkins 3, Dale Bledsoe 1. Totals: 19 22-30 61.
WE: 11 10 13 15 — 49
W: 13 19 11 18 — 61
3-point goals: WE: 5 (T. Cook, Mitchell, Bishop, Parsons, Raye), W: 1 (Blackburn). Fouled out: Johnson (WE)