The sigh of relief from Ronnie Olson said it all.
The Shady Spring head coach has endured numerous heartbreaking losses to Bluefield over the last three seasons, taking a seven-game losing streak into Friday night’s matchup against the No. 4-ranked Beavers.
A foul called with no time left on the clock, an overtime loss in a sectional championship — you name it, he’s suffered at the hands of the Beavers.
Well, that losing streak is no more.
The Class AA No. 2 Tigers erased an 11-point deficit in the second half before a sold out gym, beating the Beavers 73-70 to improve to 10-0,
Five of those wins have come against AP Top 10 teams this season.
”Wow, what an atmosphere,” Olson said after the game. “Our community showed up today for this one.”
Despite the gym packed to capacity, the pressure never got to the new faces in the Region 3, Section 2 rivalry. A combined 35 points from freshman twins Cole and Braden Chapman and clutch free throws down the stretch from senior transfer Luke LeRose were enough to seal the deal.
”They’re unflappable,” Olson said of his freshman combo. “People laughed at me when I said I had freshmen coming in that were going to play big roles. You hear that every year from all kinds of teams and I hate to say I felt different but I did, and now they proved to the state of West Virginia that they can play.
“It doesn’t matter who or where they play, they just play and they’re unflappable and tonight Braden had the flu. His parents had to pump him full of fluids and give him some medicine and he’s been drinking Pedialyte. But they just play ball. It’s all basketball for them.”
While the Tigers‘ leader, Tommy Williams, was held to just two points in the first half, it was Cole Chapman who carried the scoring load, notching eight of his 13 points to keep the game close.
In the second half he handed the baton to his brother Braden Chapman. He and Williams scored eight and seven points, respectively, in the frame, making it a 50-48 game heading into the final quarter.
The trimmed deficit came on the back of a run in which Bluefield center Sean Martin, who snuffed out layup after layup, was forced to the bench with foul trouble.
”That really hurt us,” Bluefield head coach Buster Large said. “Having Sean and Jahiem both on the bench there at the end in foul trouble hurt us. But there was nothing we could do. Our kids played hard for four quarters though and hats off to Shady Spring.”
The duo of Williams and Braden Chapman remained hot in the fourth, combining for a nine-point scoring stretch for the Tigers, which ended in their first lead of the game.
While Williams’ offense powered Shady, his defense was key in denying Martin — who bodied the Tigers in the paint all night — the ball in the fourth.
”We had to move him in there,” Olson said. “When we go with five guards, Tommy’s as big and as long as most players we’ll see. He’s our leading rebounder as well and we thought that would give us our best bet. We ramped up the pressure out front and we weren’t going to let Martin get it.”
The back and forth affair continued with a dunk from Martin, a 3-pointer from Braden Chapman and a layup from House, but eventually it was LeRose who iced the game with a layup in between and four straight foul shots with the Tigers trailing 70-69.
”This is what we work for in November,” LeRose said. “We work for games like this. I had my team and coaches behind my back. I’ve got to be confident in myself and I was. I knew I was going to make those shots.”
For Olson, the win was a relief, but ultimately nothing more than a confidence boost for his team.
“We don’t shy from the big game,” Olson said. “They’ve dominated us. This has been their section and we don’t want to get too far down the road, but this shows our kids we can beat them and they want to beat them. You can flip a coin between us. But I’ll tell you what, you better get there early for sectional play at Princeton High School because it’s going to be the exact same way it was tonight.”
Braden Chapman led all scorers with 22 points, with Cole Chapman notching 13 and Williams and LeRose scoring 18 and 13, respectively.
Sean Martin led Bluefield with 19.
Tyrese Harrison 12, Caden Fuller 3, Jahiem House 6, Kaulin Paris 13, Braeden Crews 16, Isiah Rivers 1, Sean Martin 19
Tommy Williams 18, Greyson Shepherd 5, Luke LeRose 13, Erick Bevil 2, Braden Chapman 22, Cole Chapman 13
B: 21 15 14 20 — 70
SS: 13 15 20 23 — 73
3-point goals — B: 6 (Harrison 2, Fuller 1, Crews 2, Paris 1); SS: 5 (Shepherd 1, LeRose 1, B. Chapman 3). Fouled Out — B: House.