The Class AA bracket at the boys’ state tournament is always filled with intrigue, and this year, it certainly did not disappoint. There was an undefeated team (Robert C. Byrd), a one-loss team (Poca) whose only loss was to the undefeated team, and the defending champions (Bluefield) that returned all five starters from their title team among others in a very deep field. By the tourney’s end, though, the Beavers of Bluefield left no doubt that they were the best in AA again this year.
Most of the quarterfinal games were not close. Bluefield had little trouble in coasting to a 63-34 victory over Chapmanville Regional, a team making their first state tournament appearance in school history. Robert C. Byrd struggled a little with East Fairmont early on before rolling to a 65-34 win. Poca was in a battle for a half with Fairmont Senior, but the Dots controlled the second half en route to a 55-40 victory to advance to the semifinals.
The one exception was the quarterfinal matchup between Westside and Bridgeport. The game started out at a breakneck speed, as both teams looked to push the ball up the floor. Westside was on fire to start the game, but the Indians chipped their way back into it, trailing by just 5 at the half. Bridgeport would stay within striking distance in the second half, but they never quite could get over the hump as the Renegades advanced with a 65-58 win.
This set the stage for two great semifinal matchups. In the first, Poca gave Bluefield fits. The Dots were able to effectively slow the game down a bit with patience on offence and tough defense. Poca was able to pack defenders in the lane and limit the effectiveness of Lykel Collier, who thrives on penetration. The Dots took a lead well into third quarter, but that’s when the Bluefield offense finally got rolling. Poca couldn’t overcome some foul trouble in the second half, and the Beavers advanced to the title game with a 70-54 victory.
Westside’s semifinal game started much like their quarterfinal one, as they jumped out quickly to a sizable lead. Like Bridgeport, Robert C. Byrd steadily climbed back in the game, but they were eventually able to take the lead from the Renegades. RCB was in control of the game late, as they held an 8-point lead with not much more than a minute to play. In a final effort to get back in the game, Westside jumped into a press, caused a flurry of turnovers, and was somehow able to tie the game and force overtime. RCB showed mental toughness in the overtime period, though, as they bounced back from their shaky end to regulation to pull out the 78-73 win.
This set up a dandy of a title game between the defending champions and a team with a chance to become the first undefeated state champion since 1987. Well, at least everyone thought it was going to be a dandy. Bluefield had other plans.
The Beavers jumped all over RCB to start the game. The Bluefield press gave RCB problems, forcing a bunch of turnovers. Lykel Collier was able to get in the lane at will, and Anthony Eades was knocking down seemingly all his shots from the outside. The Beavers led 25-4 after one quarter and 39-15 at the half, and though they made some runs, RCB never got the deficit back in single digits in the second half to make it a game. Bluefield coasted to a 64-39 victory to claim their second straight title.
Eades led the scoring with 29, and Collier finished one point shy of a triple double with 9 points, 11 assists, and 11 steals. Both of these first-team all-state selections were also chosen for the all-tournament team. RCB was led by 14 points from Devonti Birch and 13 points and 11 rebounds by Justin Noble.
The state championship is the fourth in school history for Bluefield, as they also won back-to-back AA titles in 1995 and 1996. This also concludes an excellent three-year stretch for this group of seniors in which they lost just seven total games with two state championships and one state runner-up.