Gallery by Heather Belcher
Preston Clary is no different than any other player to play for Woodrow Wilson.
One day he hoped to etch his name as part of the storied tradition that is commonly referred to as “Beckley basketball.”
Clary had no idea that day would come in just his fourth game as a freshman for the Flying Eagles.
Being summoned to the foul line with 4.8 seconds to play, Clary calmly drilled two free-throws to give Beckley a 52-50 win over defending state champion James Monroe Thursday in the championship game of the Burger King Division in the Little General Battle for the Armory.
“I was really nervous, but I took the challenge and made both free throws and we came out victorious,” Clary said. “I am very happy about that, but I never dreamed of being in a situation like that.”
Clary’s game winning free throws came as a result of an injury to Jaylon Walton. With the game tied 50-50, Walton took a pass from Elijah Redfern and attacked the basket.
Walton’s shot was contested and ruled to be a foul on James Monroe, sending Walton to the line.
However, a cut on Walton’s hand forced him to leave the game and Clary was inserted from the bench to take the free throws.
“That might have been a miracle type thing for us in a sense,” Beckley head coach Ron Kidd said. “Preston, even though he is a freshman, we felt like he could go in and make his foul shots. He has that type of calm about him and he showed that he was going to knock them down.”
The Mavericks entered the game confident that they could play with Beckley. That confidence was tested early when the Flying Eagles came out hot and took a 15-2 lead sparked by two 3-balls from Braydon Hawthorne and one from Coby Dillon.
The visitor gathered themselves and cut the lead back to five when Josh Burks nailed a triple just before the end of the third quarter.
“The hot start was a big plus for us. They had won 35 in a row, so it was big that we started out fast, instead of them starting out fast on us,” Kidd said.
Another long ball from Dillon opened the second quarter as Beckley stayed hot and rebuilt the lead to 13 points with 5:11 to play before the half.
As was the case all night, James Monroe got knocked down, but came storming back.
An 8-0 run brought the Mavs again within five points before a pair of free-throws with less than two ticks on the clock gave Beckley a 27-20 lead at the break.
“We didn’t execute well in the first two-and-a half quarters,” James Monroe head coach Matt Sauvage said. “I think the pace of play got to us a little bit. Once we settled into that, I think over the last quarter-and-a half, we outplayed them.”
With the lead still at seven for Beckley midway through the third quarter, the game took its first wild turn when Hawthorne was hit with his fourth foul diving for a loose ball.
Visibly frustrated with the call, Hawthorne went to the bench area where he was hit with a technical foul. The technical foul was also his fifth personal foul, removing Hawthorne from the game.
Naturally, Kidd was not happy with the call that took one of his best players out of the contest.
“We just told them that we had him under control and we were going to take him out. (The referee) called (the technical) before we could get him out,” Kidd said. “I am not going to blame the referee though. Our kids have to be more poised than that.”
With nine points in the game all coming from behind the arc, losing Hawthorne hurt Beckley a couple of ways.
“I think he was in line for a big game like last night,” Kidd said about Hawthorne. “He was shooting the ball well and was a factor on the inside. When Eli (Allen) drove, he at least had some long arms to shoot over.”
Sauvage felt the effect was more outside than inside where Hawthorne has been a defensive nemesis.
“I think it helped us more on the perimeter. Defensively he caused some havoc (in the paint), but his threat to shoot was more than anything for us. Early in the game he was effecting us a little in the paint,” Sauvage said.
The immediate result for Beckley was a 6-0 run all coming at the hands of Redfern. A steal resulted in a slam for the junior standout before he converted two straight buckets for a 13-point lead.
“I thought Elijah really showed his (veteran experience) and his leadership when we really needed it,” Kidd said. “He really showed his leadership at that point.”
Trailing by 10 with one quarter to play, the defending champions showed their metal and stormed back led by Allen.
Allen stroked two 3-pointers and created enough havoc to send the Beckley defense scrambling down the stretch.
Three straight trips, Allen weaved his way free to find teammates wide open at the basket for easy scores.
The final assists came came with 50 seconds to play when Cooper Ridgeway’s layup tied the game at 50-50.
“He was beating us off the dribble and finding his players,” Kidd said. “(Eli) was doing what a point guard should do and getting his guys involved and making the right plays.”
James Monroe’s final look at a game-winner did not fall and while he is not into moral victories, Sauvage was clearly proud of his team.
“I am proud of how they played tonight. These boys believe they can beat anybody and on some nights I think they can,” Sauvage said. “We battled back (several times) from double-digits. Their heads never got low and they didn’t try to do anything extra. They continued to battle.”
Kidd was also impressed with his young team that has been thrown to the fire early and forced to grow up quickly.
“I thought we stood up and played well against a veteran team that has probably played together since elementary school,” Kidd said. “They held there ground against a James Monroe team that can really play. (James Monroe) plays hard-nosed. They play smart and they don’t beat themselves.”
Allen finished the night with 18 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Redfern scored 20 points to go along with six rebounds and five assists.
“I thought it was a great battle between them,” Kidd said. “That was two great players. I thought they both tried to make their team win tonight.”
“Redfern is a tough player and we knew coming in that he was going to be tough,” Sauvage said. “It was fun to watch him play. Watching him and Eli battle was fun.”