Many words will be used to describe Friday night’s battle for the Class AA Region 3, Section 1 championship between No. 4 Wyoming East and No. 6 Westside, but one that will be used the most is simple — classic.
Inside a sold-out Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center, the Renegades from Clear Fork and the Warriors from New Richmond took to war, not with chariots and spears, but with an army of young men looking for championship gold.
In the end, it was the Renegades who stood victorious, defeating foe Wyoming East 83-75.
It was a classic game of Wyoming County basketball, with both teams jockeying for position throughout the night, exchanging leads and doing their best to stop the other.
Like two gladiators doing battle, senior guard Corey Bowles of Westside and senior guard Taron Ayers of Wyoming East went at each team the whole night, attacking the basket and racking up points. Bowles finished the night with 28, while Ayers finished with 31.
But in the final minutes, it was the play of junior Renegades Will Fox and Justin Cogar that put Westside over the edge, hitting big shots down the stretch to put the game out of reach for East.
For Westside, it was simply about defending the sectional title it won a year ago, and continuing the four-game winning streak at the convention center it holds over Wyoming East.
“We knew coming in we wanted to defend what we won last year,” Bowles said. “We knew we had to stop the big three for East in (Christian) Hedinger, (Austin) Canada and Ayers. But I think we came in and executed our game plan.”
Part of that game plan was putting the “Junk Yard Dog” of Westside, Justin Kenneda, on Ayers. While Ayers managed to net 31 points, it didn’t come easy as Kenneda continued to show the smashmouth defensive effort he has been known for this season.
“I’m really proud of the way our guys played,” Bowles continued. “Kenneda had a great game defensively. He and Will Fox played really well together.”
Wyoming East managed to get solid performances from Canada and Hedinger, who finished the night with 17 and 15, respectively, but failed to win the battle inside with Cogar. Cogar finished the night with 24 points and 20 rebounds — surpassing 1,000 career points in the process. East’s big man duo of John Morgan and Jordan Hayes combined for 10 points.
“That’s been the story of the season for us,” Wyoming East coach Rory Chapman said. “We’ve missed some easy shots all year long. I think this game comes down to three things: 3-pointers, foul shots and layups, and they did a better job in all three categories. They win.”
Hedinger, Canada and Ayers all put on a performance to be proud of, combining for seven 3-pointers, but West managed to sink more. Bowles knocked down six, on his way to becoming Westside’s all-time leading scorer.
“My teammates got me the ball,” he said with a smile. “They are so unselfish. I can’t think them enough. I couldn’t have done it without Fox and Kenneda getting me the ball.”
It was the type of performance Westside coach Nick Cook has been looking for from his senior leader all season. Bowles has played the majority of the year with a knee injury.
“We’ve been able to rest him here and there,” he said. “Maybe he’s been playing hooky and trying to get to the postseason. These last three games he’s turned it up. That’s the Corey Bowles I love.”
Bowles and Cook admit they were motivated by seeing the Lady Renegades cut down the nets following their regional championship victory over PikeView on Thursday night.
“Seeing those girls cut down those nets is so special,” Bowles said. “Every year they’ve done it — ever since my freshman and sophomore years, it’s driven us to do the same. I guess you could say we look up to them.”
“Without a doubt, we want that same feeling,” he said. “You see the excitement on those girls’ faces. Hopefully this is a good couple weeks for these Westside boys and girls teams.”
Westside will get the chance to cut down the nets for a second straight year on Thursday night when it welcomes the PikeView boys team to Clear Fork.
Wyoming East, meanwhile, must travel to Bluefield and take on a Beavers squad that hasn’t lost a home game to a Class AA opponent in over five seasons.
It’s a challenge Chapman is looking forward to.
“We’re still alive. We still have a chance,” he said. “We’ve got to go down there and find a way to knock off the defending AA state champs.
“I have a lot of faith in my guys,” he continued. “We’re going to strap it up and have a good week of practice.”
As for a possible rematch with the Renegades in Charleston?
“We’re 2-2 with them,” Chapman said. “Hopefully we get one more chance with them in the state tournament.”
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Larry Cook 1 0-0 2, Will Fox 5 7-11 18, Jordan Browning 1 0-0 2, Corey Bowles 28, Justin Kenneda 3 0-1 9, Justin Cogar 6 11-11 24. Totals: 25 22-27 83.
WYOMING EAST (17-5)
Austin Canada 6 3-5 17, John Morgan 2 2-3 6, Christian Hedinger 6 0-1 15, Jordan Hayes 2 0-2 4, Logan Blankenship 0 0-0 0, MIchael Hayworth 0 0-0 0, David Carte 1 0-0 2, Taron Ayers 12 5-6 31. Totals: 29 10-17 75.
Westside..........................................17 19 17 30 — 83
Wyoming East................................ 21 11 21 22 — 75
3-point goals — W: 11 (Bowles 6, Kenneda 3, Fox, Cogar.); WE: 7 (Canada 2, Hedinger 3, Ayers 2.) Fouled out — WE: Hayes.