By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian
The odds were against East Fairmont when it drew top-ranked and unbeaten Robert C. Byrd in the first round of the Class AA state basketball tournament.
And the Bees didn’t make it any easier on themselves in the opening five minutes Wednesday, falling into a 17-3 hole.
An impressive run helped the Bees turn the game back into, well… a game. But another lopsided stretch by the Flying Eagles in the third and fourth quarters quickly ended any threat of an upset, as they went on to beat East Fairmont, 65-34 at the Charleston Civic Center.
Robert C. Byrd (22-0) will advance to play Westside, a 65-58 winner over Bridgeport in Wednesday’s final game.
The wild fluctuations in scoring were a microcosm of how the season has gone for East Fairmont. A five-game losing streak in late January and early February landed the Bees six games below .500. But they rallied toward the end of the season, winning 5-of-7 before Friday to advance to the state tournament for the first time since 2001.
“I think it’s a little bit of how our season has been — up and down,” said East Fairmont coach Tyrone Asterino. “I’m still extremely proud of my team and my players. I think we’ve overcome a lot of things just to get to this point.”
The Bees (11-14) settled in during the second part of the season, and likewise, they regained their compose after the early Robert C. Byrd run, scoring eight unanswered points. The 12-2 run continued into the second quarter, and with 5:03 until the half Ian Hayhurst hit a layup to pull the Bees within a bucket at 19-17.
Robert C. Byrd’s dominant big man Justin Noble could only watch from the bench with two fouls as the Bees closed the gap. And shortly thereafter Devonti Birch joined him on the sidelines with foul trouble of his own.
“Once we got Noble in foul trouble it was a lot easier,” said Nick Greely, who scored seven of his nine points in the first half. “He’s a lot bigger than Devonti Birch. Then when he went out, it was even easier.”
East Fairmont went to the half down, 27-19. But in the opening minutes of the third quarter it was clear that things would be much more challenging. Birch returned to score 10 of his 19 points in the second half, and Noble took care of the defense inside.
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound forward held Greely to just one basket and one rebound in the final 16 minutes.
Robert C. Byrd coach Bill Bennett praised Greely, saying, “He’s a good player now, but he’s going to be really good. For a young kid, he’s got really good moves in the post.”
But the coach also noted that Birch has shut down “just about everybody that he’s played against this year.”
“When he defends, he takes it personally when someone tries to score,” he said.
The performances from Birch and Noble surely helped to secure the game, but it was Luke Dyers’ performance that clinched it. He scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half to again push the game out of reach.
“The shots that Luke hit in that stretch were crucial,” said Bennett. “They were kind of like nails in the coffin at that point in time.”
The Eagles held the Bees scoreless in the fourth quarter until Ryan Wanstreet hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Bees will graduate seniors David Wadsworth, Colton Toothman (four points), Ronnie Mills (two points) and Ian Hayhurst (two points). But they will return with a number of key pieces, including Myles Johnson (nine points), Brennon Vincent (five points).
“We’ve had a rough season, but it was nice to get down here for the first time for coach,” said Johnson. “Obviously it didn’t end the way we wanted it to.”
Email Mike DeFabo at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.