Gallery by Heather Belcher
Coaches preach it all the time – you have to make your free throws, especially down the stretch.
Wyoming East was nearly perfect from the line Wednesday afternoon on its road to a 52-46 win over Charleston Catholic in the Little General Battle for the Armory at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.
Over the final eight minutes of the contest, the Warriors knocked down 14 of their 15 attempts to stave off a furious Irish rally and secure the win.
“It was a good win, but it didn’t end quite the way we wanted. It wasn’t the way we handled the pressure most of the night,” Wyoming East head coach Derek Brooks said. “There at the end we were scrambling and had to use most of our timeouts to keep possession of the ball.”
A pair of free throws from Bryson Huff with 2:56 to play gave East a 47-36 lead before things went sideways for the Warriors.
“We had quite a few turnovers there at the end that let them back in the ballgame. We should have sealed it and made them foul us to get to line,” Brooks said. “We had some silly turnovers.”
A steal and a layup from Max Wilcox with just over a minute to play capped an 8-0 run to bring Catholic within three points at 47-44.
A pair of free throws from Garrett Mitchell stopped the bleeding, but a quick bucket from Jayallen Turner cut the advantage back to three points with 24 seconds left in the contest.
However, Wyoming East did not surrender another bucket the rest of the way.
Two free throws from Mitchell and one from Jackson Danielson gave East its fourth win in as many games this season.
“We regrouped and made our foul shots down the stretch and we won the game,” Brooks said. “That was big for us. We had to have those. The only points we got down the stretch was from the free throw line.”
Mitchell had 12 points in the contest and was perfect from the line in six attempts.
“Just knock down free throws,” Mitchell said. “They put me on the line and I just had to knock them down. They are a good defensive team.”
With 3:30 to play in the second quarter Wyoming East ended the half on a 7-0 run and proceeded to score the first four points of the second half for a 26-14 lead, its largest of the game.
“Just grit and the want and willpower,” Brooks said when asked his thoughts on the crucial run that separated the game. “I told them going out we needed to get some stops early in the third quarter and score a couple of buckets to push the lead out to double digits.”
East led by seven after three quarters and pushed the lead to nine with seven minutes to play.
Six straight points by Turner pulled the Irish within three for the first time in the second half before four points from Mitchell and a crucial bucket from Jackson Danielson on a loose ball.
Playing his first year of high school basketball, Danielson has been a nice addition inside for the Warriors. He finished the night with 11 points and six rebounds even though he was limited to 17 minutes of action with foul trouble.
“He is a huge addition for us. We noticed it the first day of practice. He is physical and he is a strong kid,” Brooks said. “He plays good defense. To have not played basketball for three years, he finishes around the rim.”
The quiet hero on the night for East was point guard Cole Lambert who battled the intense Irish pressure and had just two turnovers. Lambert finished with 15 points and had five rebounds.
“The kid works. I know you have heard it over and over, but he is the hardest worker I have,” Brooks said. “He is always working on his game. The kid lives in the gym and he is a heady kid. He is a smart basketball player and has a high IQ.”
Although East was stellar at the line during the game, it had to overcome some struggles from the field to get the win.
“We shot it very poorly in the second half. Give credit to their defense. They were up in us forcing turnovers. They were playing that scramble trapping (defense) and we only shot 33 percent in the second half,” Brooks said. “It shows the resilience and the fight in our guys. They didn’t give up. We could have easily done that where we turned it over a few times and kept turning it over.”
Wyoming East advances to the championship game of the Pepsi Division where it will meet Class AAAA Princeton.
“We expect the same thing. They do a little bit of run and jump and they are very good at it. They even throw in some half-court pressure. We have to be ready for that,” Brooks said. “I think we can exploit that if we pass the ball the way we should. They are a very good basketball team and a very deep basketball team. It will be a tough game. It will let us know where we stand and what we need to work on going forward.”
The championship game will tip at 4 p.m.
Charleston Catholic will play Mt. Hope Christian in the consolation game at 2 p.m.