Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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March 22, 2014

Column: Seeding gave Beavers added motivation

CHARLESTON — It may not have been intentional, but all the WVSSAC did when Bluefield was seeded third in the Class AA state tournament was give them even more motivation to succeed.

Did it ever.

All the Beavers did over three days was defeat Chapmanville, second seed Poca and top seed Robert C. Byrd by a combined 70 points.

The reasoning was probably that Robert C. Byrd was undefeated, Poca had one loss, while Bluefield had two, but it still didn't go over well with the Beavers, who were the defending Class AA state champions.

"It made us mad, no doubt, because we were the defending state champions," Bluefield senior Anthony Eades said. "We play a hard schedule, not many teams play the schedule that we play, and in a tough region with Westside, Wyoming East and PikeView.

"I don't think RCB played the type of schedule we did so I think that was an advantage for us. We were experienced coming into today, it was our third state championship appearance, that was a huge factor too."

This current Bluefield seniors had been upset as freshmen by a halfcourt shot in sectionals by Greenbrier West. Their seasons ended the last three years in the state title game, losing to Tug Valley in 2012 before defeating Fairmont Senior and Robert C. Byrd by a combined 45 points.  

That experience certainly helped the Beavers, who never appeared bothered by playing in front of a large crowd at the Charleston Civic Center.

"I kind of expected this from us. Last year in the championship game we played very well too, we had been there so we kind of knew what to expect in this game," Bluefield senior Lykel Collier said.

The Beavers expected to be back at this point the season, even after a pair of January losses to Greenbrier East and Westside, which took Robert C. Byrd to overtime in the Class AA semifinals.

"We made some shirts at the beginning of the season that said ‘Mission Possible’ but after that loss to Westside, a lot of people overlooked us and thought we couldn't get out of our region to make it up here," Collier said. "When we did get up here we felt we had a chip on our shoulder just to prove to the whole state that we are still the defending state champions and we were still the team to beat this year."

They were, but nobody could do it. Not even Robert C. Byrd, which faced the same fate as the Parkers-burg South girls and Washington boys, going undefeated during the regular season, only to lose upon their arrival in Charleston.

Completing that perfect season can be difficult. Wichita State is trying to do the same in the NCAA tournament with a contest today against Kentucky.

"It is very difficult, you don't see it happen at any level," Robert C. Byrd head coach Bill Bennett said. "If you guys are watching and paying attention to the NCAA tournament, it is a great game and there are a lot of good players out there.

"Everybody says how did this happen, but they have got good players. Everybody down here has got good players, that is why we can't pick how the games are going to come out. We all think we can pick them, but nobody is winning that billion dollars in that NCAA pool, you can't even pick the games down here.

"It is difficult because everybody has got good players and the players want to win and they are playing to win. To me that is what makes it the greatest game there is."

No team wants to lose a game, but the Beavers dropped a pair. But that competition only made them better down the stretch when it counted most.

"In the offesason I tried to make the schedule as hard as I could make it," said Bluefield head coach Buster Large, who kept his team busy when it was allowed last summer by playing in summer leagues and camps. "That is the only way you are going to get better.

"You just have to work in everything and these kids worked. At one time we were 7-2, but then I immediately saw us getting better. We were good beginning in December, but this week makes four months and one week and since about the second week of January we have just gotten better and better in different phases of the game."

It showed, as the Beavers won a second straight state championship, and third co-regional and third sectional title in three years, while finishing with a record of 75-7 over those three seasons.

That loss to Tug Valley in the title game in 2012 when these seniors were sophomores certainly served as a motivational tool for the Beavers as well.

"That is a hard thing to do, losing the state championship, that is hard, and then you have got to pose and take pictures, that is tough to do," said Eades, who finished his career as the school's all-time leading scorer, but was more excited about being a two-time state champion. "We didn't want to experience that again today and we just worked and came out and played as hard as we could and it worked.

"Two state championships, my individual stats don't mean nothing to me. Coming into the season all we think about is state championships. My individual goals will take care of themselves, I just do what I have got to do for us to win."

It was a difficult season for senior Michael Yost, who had to miss about six weeks with a badly sprained ankle, but his efforts, especially on defense, won't be forgotten anytime soon. He will play next at Bluefield College.

"Our senior year, we had to go out with a bang, it is only right for us to go out as two-time state champions," Yost said. "That is the best feeling, especially going back to back. The senior class, we did it for the fans, Bluefield, Bluefield High School, it just feels great to end like this."

As for what lies ahead for Bluefield, don't feel sorry for the Beavers.

"We are going to be good, I am not going to say we are going to be this good, but we have potential to be good," Large said. "We have the potential to be very good the next four or five years because we have established what we are going to do, how we are going to work, the work program, the assistant coaches, and how they handle this.

"We have got a great thing going right now and anytime you win one straight and you win two is very special, it is not easy to do."

But what a feeling it is to achieve that goal.

"It is hard to describe, it hasn't hit me yet actually," said Eades, who will play next at Tusculum College. "This is just crazy, not too many people experience this and I am just blessed to have it happen to me."

Perhaps no one appreciated the state title more than Collier, who was actually ruled ineligible prior to the season, but was able to appeal and have the ruling overturned just in time for his final year on the hardwood with the Beavers.

"It feels amazing, just getting to play with my best friends in my senior year," Collier said. "It was a hard offseason for me. I didn't know if I would get to play or not, but it means a lot to play with these boys for the last four years. I love them."

*****

Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at bwoodson@bdtonline.com.

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