Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
Fifteen years ago this spring, the 1998-99 Bluefield College men’s basketball team made history.
The milestone: an upset win over nationally ranked No. 3 Southern Oregon University in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division II National Tournament — a feat no other team has ever accomplished at Bluefield.
On Saturday, March 1, the college will honor members of that historic squad with a reception at noon in Shott Hall.
As part of the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the landmark win, members of the team, other former basketball players and all Bluefield College alumni, fans, family and friends are invited to return to the Dome Gymnasium at 2 p.m. for a current basketball doubleheader with Campbellsville. and a reunion to reminisce and revel about that particular NAIA tournament run.
“That team and its unexpected bid to play in the National Tournament will forever be remembered by Bluefield College sports fans,” said Chris Shoemaker, 20-year director of public relations, who chronicled the team’s success. “To make the National Tournament after the adversity they had faced was remarkable enough, but to win a game and against the number three team in the country — that was unbelievable!”
The adversity began for the Rams just weeks before the season began when head coach Walt Ayers departed for a position with a Naval Academy Preparatory School in Rhode Island. In came first-year coach Tommy Brown to lead the team into competitive Tennessee-Virginia Athletic Conference (TVAC) play.
Not long after, the Rams lost starter Ben Beshears, who was averaging more than 20 points per game, to a season-ending injury. As a result of these and other setbacks along the way, the Rams finished the regular season with an overall 12-16 win-loss record.
But, in the first round of the TVAC postseason tournament, the Rams upset third-seed Virginia Intermont to advance to semifinal action against Tennessee Wesleyan, the TVAC’s second place team. The magic continued for Bluefield, as they shocked the Bulldogs to earn a spot in the league title game against nationally ranked Milligan College, the conference’s regular season champs, which was 27-4 at the time.
Milligan beat the Rams, but the impressive late-season run and second place finish in the TVAC tournament was good enough to qualify Bluefield for the NAIA National Tournament in Nampa, Idaho.
With an overall record of 14-17, the Rams drew the nation’s third best NAIA team, Southern Oregon, in the first round. The Raiders were 22-8 overall, champions of the Cascade Conference and riding a nine-game winning streak.
Despite the David-Goliath script, BC didn’t back down from Southern Oregon. In fact, the Rams led, 47-41, at halftime and trailed the NAIA power by just one, 86-85, with nine seconds remaining in the game.
Bluefield fouled the Raiders with five seconds to play, and Southern Oregon hit just one of two free throws to take an 87-85 and to set up the miracle scenario for theRams.
Going the near distance of the floor in less than five seconds, Bluefield’s Jimmy Stemple launched a desperation, off-balance, 30-foot three-point jumper that went in at the buzzer to give BC the improbable 88-87 win.
“It was definitely out of my comfortable range,” said Stemple about his 30-foot jumper at the buzzer, “but just like I said, as soon as it left my hand, I knew it was going in.”
Stemple hit two threes, including the game winner, in the final minutes of the game to finish with seven points. He also added 12 assists. Senior guard Toby Curry led the Rams in scoring with 20 points. Andre Law, R.J. Stewart and Wes Wilson contributed 15 apiece — Wilson was 5 for 6 shooting behind the arc.
Brian Maynard recorded a double-double with12 points and 12 rebounds. Gillis Walker chipped in four points.
“Unbelievable!” said Coach Brown after the game. “This is the biggest upset of the tournament. It was our most balanced scoring effort of the year. It was great!”
That was the first and only time in NAIA tournament history that a No. 3 see was eliminated in the first round. Despite several appearances in the event, that also remains the only NAIA National Tournament win in school history.
“This year I’ve learned not to be surprised by anything,” Brown said, after the win/ “We’ve had so many ups and downs. I’ve seen this team make some tremendous comebacks. I wasn’t surprised — happy, but not surprised.”
Other members of that particular team included Donnie Costigan, Eric Thompson, Joe Shipbaugh, Shawn Whitlock, Lee Meadows, Jason Mondrage and Eric Williams.
Assistant coaches included Rodd Welker and David Rabe.
In addition to a reception on March 1, players and coaches from that team will be recognized during Bluefield’s doubleheader games that begin at 2 with the women, followed by the men at 4.
A special area will be reserved for alumni in the upper concourse of the Dome Gymnasium. Alumni and friends are encouraged to RSVP for the reception and the games.
Those who do attend will receive a reduced $1 admission and a Bluefield College pennant.
For more information or to RSVP, contact Alumni Director Mark Hipes at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 276-326-4289.