BRUSHFORK — Don’t count the Bluefield Beavers out at crunch time.
Bouncing back from a nine-point second-half deficit, the Beavers turned up the pressure on the Liberty Raiders and earned a 51-41 win in Thursday’s regional co-final at the Brushfork Armory.
Bluefield (8-10) will move on to next week’s state basketball tournament as Class AAA Region 3 co-champs.
“We had to keep battling,” said Bluefield head coach Buster Large. “We just felt like something was going to drop. We were young, we were nervous, (but) we have a veteran coaching staff that got these kids through this. And the kids responded well.”
The season ended for Liberty (5-5), which led for most of the first 28 minutes of the game before succumbing to the Beavers’ fourth-quarter substitution strategy.
Liberty head coach Ricky Chad Williams, likewise referring to his team’s inexperience, said, “I expected us to step up, and I think youth got the better of us.”
The Raiders’ 6-foot-4 sophomore Adam Drennen led the scoring parade with 16 points. He and 6-foot-3 A.J. Williams dominated the rebounding in the first half and altered Bluefield shots with the threat of blocks.
Liberty took a 9-2 lead midway through the first quarter.
Bluefield went almost five minutes without scoring in the middle of the first half, but trimmed the score to 24-21 at halftime on a three-point basket by Jaylan Green with 55 seconds to go before the break.
The Beavers were just 8 for 31 in field-goal attempts in the first half. Large said “voices got a little high” during the Beavers’ halftime break.
Liberty’s Adam McGhee scored six consecutive points to expand the lead to 30-23 in the third quarter, but the Raiders went cold against a pressing Bluefield defense late in the stanza.
Back-to-back steals by the Beavers’ Kam’Ron Gore and Ja’eon Flack led to buckets in transition, and Liberty’s lead shrank to 34-32 going into the final quarter.
Bluefield’s first lead of the game came when R.J. Hairston stole the ball away and laid it into the basket for a 42-41 advantage with 3:32 remaining.
Liberty went 0-for-7 from the field the rest of the way.
Hairston scored half of his 12 points in the fourth quarter. Green added 10 points for the Beavers and senior Logan Hyder had nine.
Hyder said that in the fourth quarter, “We believed in our shots, and they started going.”
“It just came down to grit. It came down to who wanted it more.”
“We had the game in hand,” Ricky Chad Williams said, “and mental mistakes (cost us), and speeding ourselves up … because the game started getting close.”
He said he felt the momentum shifting at “the start of the fourth (quarter).”
“They put more shooters on the floor to get us out of the 2-3 (defense). Some of the younger guys, when I had to put them in, didn’t close out on the 3-pointers, and the 3-pointers started adding up.”
“We started feeling the pressure.”
He said that his squad overall “showed me they had a lot of fight in them. Now they just have to learn to close out games.”
“We definitely plan to be back,” he said.
Bluefield converted just 32.8 percent of its 58 field-goal attempts but went 7-for-8 at the free throw line. Liberty had 40.9 percent accuracy from the field (18 for 44).
Large gave plaudits to the home-team crowd after the game.
“These people love their basketball. They love Bluefield High School,“ the coach said. “It got us excited. I’m sure we’ll have a good following next week (in Charleston). I’m looking forward to it.”
At Brushfork Armory
Bluefield 51, Liberty 41
A.J. Williams 2 2-3 6, Braden Howell 4 0-0 8, Trey Tabor 1 0-0 3, Adam Drennen 7 2-5 16, Adam McGhee 4 0-0 8. Totals 18 4-8 41.
Logan Hyder 3 1-2 9, Jaylan Green 4 0-0 10, Chance Johnson 0 4-4 4, Ja’eon Flack 3 0-0 8, Tre Walker 2 0-0 4, Caleb Fuller 2 0-0 4, R.J. Hairston 5 2-2 12. Totals 19 7-8 51.
Liberty …………… 16 8 10 7 — 41
Bluefield …………. 10 11 11 19 — 51
3-point goals: L 1 (Tabor), B 6 (Hyder 2, Green 2, Flack 2). Total fouls: L 13, B 13. Fouled out: L, McGhee. Technical fouls: none.