By DAVE MORRISON
The Independent Herald
BECKLEY – Westside’s Evan Colucci is becoming the master of the 3 for the Renegades this season.
But not in just the way that would now be considered the normal sense.
No place was that more evident than the Renegades’ 61-49 victory against Wyoming East in the Class AA Region 3 Section 1 semifinals Tuesday at the Armory.
Colucci does have 23 3 pointers.
But he also has just as many of the old conventional three-point plays, drawing a foul on a made field goal and adding the free throws, or, as they are called, “and-1s.”
He added three more on Tuesday as the Renegades eliminated the Warriors and advanced the Thursday’s Section 1 championship.
He had one three-point play early, sparking a 7-2 start.
He had one at the 5:59 mark of the second quarter when the Warriors got to within 3 at 19-16, and immediately followed with a two to push the margin to 24-16.
The last time Wyoming East got within single digits, 45-37 in the fourth quarter on a Jake Bishop 3-point play, Colucci added his third on a 9-0 run, started by and finished by a pair of free throws from his cousin, Jace Colucci, to put the game out of reach.
“I got the ball and my driving game was working,” Colucci said. “I just kept driving (to the basket) and scoring and-1s.”
Colucci finished with a game-high 17 points.
“He was just slippery,” Wyoming East coach Derek Brooks said. “He’d sneak in behind the defense and get in open spots, which is what you’re supposed to do against a zone. You’re supposed to move and get in open spots and I thought he did a great job of that.”
Colucci said he adapts his game to what is working.
“It depends on what I’m feeling that night,” Colucci said. “If I’m not hitting (from the outside) I’ll drive but if I’m hitting I’ll shoot it.”
Despite his low-key demeanor and slight built, about 5-9, 140 pounds, Colucci’s success at finding soft spots in opposing defenses and his ability to get to the basket is something that Westside coach Shawn Jenkins has grown used to seeing over the course of the season.
“He played well tonight,” Jenkins said. “And to be so little, he knows how to use his body when he gets to the basket and he gets those and-1s. And he does that extremely well. I’ve said this all year. He’s just a sophomore. And he surprises me at times the with the way he plays.”
The fact that Westside was the top seed in Section 1 is largely due to Colucci’s hitting a buzzer beater to beat Oak Hill 56-53 on Jan. 24. Had he not hit that shot Westside could have been a two or three seed in what was a strange season in the last games for the current classification alignment. Next year the state will test a four-class alignment during a two-year pilot program for basketball only. Wyoming East and Westside won’t be in the same Class, Westside opting to play up in AAA, Wyoming East remaining in AA.
Aside from Colucci’s big evening, the game mirrored the last game between the two just one week prior in Clear Fork.
There were 44 fouls called in Tuesday’s game and each team shot 30 free throws.
“That’s pretty much what it was,” Jenkins said. “They’re (Wyoming East) improving. They’re guards are getting better but their guards are young. And you try to put a little pressure on them, try to make them make mistakes or take quick shots and that’s pretty much what we were able to do.”
For Wyoming East, it was a tale of two seasons. The Warriors entered the season as the prohibitive favorite with the section’s most experienced squad.
But three starters and the sixth man left at midseason, and sophomore Tanner Whitten, who took over as the leading scorer, was injured four games later and missed the rest of the season.
Freshmen ending up joining team leader Jacob Bishop and played key roles.
Garrett Mitchell, Chandler Johnson, Jacob Howard and Nathan Parson all played and scored in Tuesday’s game and Mitchell and Johnson were starters.
“The (freshmen) that were playing there at the end, we figured they would dress (varsity) but we didn’t figure they would be playing the minutes that they were playing,” Brooks said. “We wanted to kind of work Garrett in as a freshman, we know he’s going to be a good player. Same with Chandler, we wanted to work him in, get his confidence up and then bring him up to the varsity. Those guys were thrown into the fire and I thought they handled it quite well.”
Wyoming East was led by senior Jake Bishop, who had 12 points. It was his eighth straight double figure game after he had three in the first 16 games.
“That young man had a great career,” Brooks said. “He’s been with me four years. We brought him up as a freshman. He’s an outstanding kid, he has outstanding character. He does everything you ask, he doesn’t ever complain. He’s a kid that never gets in trouble.”
Whatever the way the series goes, and Wyoming East and Westside will continue to meet, the series is currently tied at 27-27 in 18 seasons of the rivalry (which started in the 2002-03 season when Westside opened.
Still, Tuesday’s game was the fourth meeting between the schools this season, and Jenkins thought it was too much. The teams average playing three times, which means twice in the regular season and once in the postseason plus they typically meet in tournaments like the Big Atlantic Classic or, this year, the New River CTC.
“This is our fourth time playing them this year and it kind of takes away the rivalry when you play them so many times,” Jenkins said. “So I was just glad to get this over, as I said last Tuesday, I was glad to get that one over. “
In the first game, Independence went on a 9-0 run inside the final two minutes of the game, the largest run by either team in the game as No. 2 seed Independence topped No. 3 seed Oak Hill 53-47.
It was the Patriots second victory against Oak Hill.
After Hunter Rinehart gave Oak Hill a 44-42 lead with 2:39 left, Independence got a basket from Jared Cannady, a 3 from Michael McKinney and four free throws from Atticus Goodson, who led all scorers with 18 points.
Zach Bolen had 16 for Independence, now 14-8.
Cannady and McKinney, who combined for 38.8 points per game for Independence, had 16 combined in the game.
Hunter Rinehart had 16 for Oak Hill and Jacob Perdue added 11. After finishing the regular season with 61 3s and one two pointer, Rinehart had three 2s in the game.
Westside and Independence did not play this season.
Westside 61, Wyoming East 49
Wyoming East (7-17)
Tucker Cook 1 0-0 3, Garrett Mitchell 1 8-11 11, Jacob Bishop 4 3-7 12, Anthony Martin 1 5-6 7, Chandler Johnson 0 1-2 1, Jacob Howard 1 1-2 3, Nathan Parsons 2 0-0 5, Kaden Norris 0 0-0 0, Randy Raye 1 2-2 5, Jared Sandy 0 0-0 0, Tanner Cook 1 0-0 2, Dacoda Cooper 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 12 20-30 49
Jace Colucci 3 7-9 13, Daniel Reed 4 3-4 11, Ethan Blackburn 4 0-2 9, Evan Colucci 6 5-5 17, Tommy Milam 2 2-2 6, Wesley Browning 0 1-2 1, Shandell Adkins 0 3-4 3, Mike Newsome 0 0-0 0, Dale Bledsoe 0 1-2 1. TOTALS: 19 22-30 61.
Score by quarters
Wyoming East 11 10 13 15 – 49
Westside 13 19 11 18 – 61
Three-point field goals – WE: 5 (Cook, Mitchell, Bishop, Parsons, Raye), W: 1 (Blackburn). Fouled out – WE: Johnson. W: Milam.
Independence 53, Oak Hill 47
Oak Hill (8-15)
Jacob Perdue 4 0-0 11, Jason Manns 3 0-0 8, Hunter Rinehart 6 1-2 16, Samuel Crist 0 0-0 0, Omar Lewis 1 0-2 2, Leonard Farrow 0 0-2 0, Ethan Vargo 0 0-0 0, Darian McDowell 4 0-1 9, Camden Craddock 0 1-2 1. TOTALS: 18 2-9 47.
Michael McKinney 2 2-2 7, Jarred Cannady 4 0-0 9, Zach Bolen 6 4-4 16, Atticus Goodson 7 4-5 18, Cyrus Goodson 0 0-0 0, Logan Phalin 0 0-0 0, Carter Adkins 1 0-0 3, A.J. Zilinksi 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 20 10-11 53.
Oak Hill 11 14 6 16 – 47
Independence 8 15 12 18 – 53
Three-point field goal – OH: 9 (Perdue 3, Manns 2, Rinehart 3, McDowell 1) I: McKinney, Cannady, Adkins). Fouled out – None.