The plan was slow down Anthony Eades and Lykel Collier, and Wyoming East did just that.
That left Michael Yost open, and he made toast of the Warriors, scoring 17 of his 20 points in the opening quarter, and the Beavers pulled away from Wyoming East for a 72-56 Region III co-championship on Wednesday night at the Brushfork Armory.
Bluefield (22-3) returns to the Charleston Civic Center next week — possibly as the top seed — for the Class AA state tournament.
“Three more games,” said Yost, whose Beavers reached the championship game last season and lost to Tug Valley.
The Beavers, who have lost four times in the finals since 1997, last won state championships on the court in 1995-96.
“It is nice to get back to Charleston, there is no better feeling in the world,” Bluefield head coach Buster Large said. “We were disappointed by losing last year and this is a new year. I know what these kids have in the back of their mind and the coaching staff and we are going to take it one game at a time.”
Wyoming East, which has its own tradition of championships, winning titles in 2007-08 and losing in the finals the next two years, tied the score at 37 at the break, but never led, losing for a third time to the Beavers.
“They have got a tremendous team, three of the best guards you are going to see in AA, they are tough matchup for anybody,” Wyoming East head coach Rory Chapman said. “I think three of the best five teams in the state are all in this region and we played two of them in back-to-back games and I think we are the third one.
“I think both them and Westside will represent southern West Virginia well.”
Bluefield placed four players in double figures, led by Yost with 20 points and five steals. Eades was held to one field goal, but was 14-for-14 from the free throw line for 16 points, while Collier added 10 points, 11 assists and four steals.
“(Eades) got one field goal, we worked hard on it, and we worked hard on him and Collier both and we limited both of them,” Chapman said. “Both probably got below their average, but it just wasn’t enough tonight.
D.J. Edwards added 13 points and Corey Coppola had nine for the Beavers.
“I am excited, this was our goal at the beginning of the season,” Collier said. “We always wanted to get back to Charleston because we had a bad taste in our mouth from last year. We are just going to take it one game at a time because it is the best eight teams in the state.”
Wyoming East will lose just one senior starter in 6-foot-4 Brett Bowling, who led the Warriors with 22 points, while 6-4 freshman Cody Lester added 14. That duo combined for 22 points in the opening half.
“We only lose one senior that played a lot of minutes...,” Chapman said. “We have got some good young guys coming. It is the offseason now for us, it is time to get back to work for these young kids.”
Wyoming East used a triangle-in-one to limit Eades and Collier to just two points each in the first half, but Yost had 17 in the opening quarter, including three of his four 3s as the Beavers took a 13-2 lead and built it to 28-17 after the opening period.
Eades, who averages 20.0 points a game, had just two free throws in the first half.
“The game plan to win the game was that triangle, but you have got to give Yost credit, he was able to get 17 in the first quarter,” Chapman said.
While staying with that defense, the Warriors began to work the ball inside to Bowling and Lester, exciting the large Wyoming East contingent of fans, outscoring the Beavers 19-10 in the second quarter to tie the score at 37. Both teams made 50 percent of their shot attempts in the opening half.
“They took it seven straight times inside and we had to do something, that the main conversation we had at halftime and we responded well,” said Large, whose Beavers forced 19 Wyoming East turnovers. “We pulled our pressure out more, we knew we had to get some turnovers and fortunately we were able to.”
Coppola and Edwards combined for 22 points, including 12 in the second half, while helping to push the Wyoming East big men away from the basket, making it difficult for the Warriors to score.
“We went in at halftime and they said the posts were eating us alive and they challenged me and D.J. to step up so we accepted their challenge and I think we did pretty good in the second half,” Coppola said.
After the teams traded baskets opening the second half, it was Yost again who canned a 3 to finish off a 7-0 run sparked by a pair of Wyoming East turnovers, and putting the Beavers up 46-39 with 4:47 on the clock.
“They had the momentum coming into the third so we knew we had to come out and play Bluefield Beaver basketball,” Yost said. “We all told ourselves, we are not going to lose again, we are going to make it upstate and achieve our dream because last year we fell short.
“In the back of our minds we want that state championship, we don’t want to lose in the regional, we want to make it up there.”
Wyoming East was able to trim the lead to 46-43 on a basket by Josh Tunstalle, and the Beavers answered an offensive putback by Bowling to take a 53-47 lead heading into the final quarter.
“We did a good job for 2 1/ 2 quarters and then we quit scoring the ball,” Chapman said. “When that happens against a team like Bluefield, they pour in the points, they have got scorers and that was the difference in the game.
“We quit scoring and we quit getting it in there and they kept scoring.”
Wyoming East struggled to score in the final period, with the Beavers using an 8-0 run to build a 59-47 lead before Bowling connected with 4:21 left in the game to cut the margin to 10, but that was as close as the Warriors would get.
“There was no doubt in my mind they were going to come over here and play, they have too much pride and too much tradition...,” Large said. “We played through some tough times, made some big buckets.
“I thought we played extremely smart basketball and we had to there late in the fourth quarter, we had to protect that lead.”
Bluefield was 15-for-18 from the free throw line the final period, with Eades connecting on all 12 of his attempts.
“I practice a lot of free throws, every practice I am shooting a lot of free throws,” said Eades, who is thrilled to return to Charleston. “It feels great, we have some unfinished business to take care of.
“We have been working hard every day to get back to Charleston and we are there. We have to play great.”
Bluefield will learn its first initial opponent when the Class AA seedings are released this weekend. Large hopes to have a large contingent of fans along for the ride, much like that had on this night in their final game of the season at the Armory.
“I am so proud of these young men and I especially want to thank the Bluefield fans, the Bluefield crowd and Bluefield High School which came out and supported us,” Large said. “There was a lot more people, not just from Bluefield and they came over and got behind us tonight.
“Let me tell something, that has really, really meant a lot to us and I hope that support follows us up next week.”
—Contact Brian Woodson
at Brushfork Armory
WYOMING EAST (16-9)
Austin Canada 1 3-3 5, Cody Lester 7 0-0 14, Josh Tunstalle 2 1-2 6, Christian Hedinger 2 0-0 5, Brett Bowling 8 6-7 22, John Morgan 1 0-0 2, Tyler Lester 1 0-0 2. Totals 22 10-12 56.
BLUEFIELD ( 22-3)
D.J. Edwards 5 3-4 13, Anthony Eades 1 14-14 16, Lykel Collier 3 3-7 10, Michael Yost 8 0-0 20, Corey Coppola 4 1-3 9, Jordan Ponder 2 0-0 4. Totals 23 21-28 72.
Wyoming East......................18 19 10 9 — 56
Bluefield...............................27 10 16 19 — 72
3-point goals: WE 2 (Tunstalle 1, Hedinger 1); BF 5 (Yost 4, Collier 1). Total fouls: WE 14; BF 14. Fouled out: Edwards, Canada. Technicals: Lester, Edwards.