By Dave Morrison
It’s been a big season already for the Greenbrier East Spartans, including a regular-season sweep of Woodrow Wilson, a feat which has not happened since the bicentennial year of 1976.
None of the coaches in Tuesday’s Class AAAA Region 3, Section 1 tournament had even hit high school yet. The tournament begins Tuesday when Woodrow Wilson (7-11) travels to Princeton (10-3) Tuesday and Greenbrier East (9-2) hosts Oak Hill (5-5) Wednesday.
The Spartans are the favorite to win the section and host a Region co-final.
It’s not a fluke, the Spartans have one of the state’s best players in senior Bailee Coles.
Coles has been lights out when he has been healthy, averaging 22.8 points per game. It’s the health that has been the problem. Coles missed five games after sustaining a lower leg injury against Woodrow Wilson on March 25.
He returned when the Spartans and Flying Eagles met April 6, but again sustained a leg injury.
The good news is that Coles is expected back at full speed Wednesday against Oak Hill.
If there is any bad news its that East has not played since that game April 6, the second near two-week hiatus for the Spartans.
An injury to a top player, especially an elite player, could cripple many teams. But not many players have William Gabbert available to pick up the slack.
The senior did just that, scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter of that first Woodrow Wilson game after Coles went out, and he didn’t stop.
He finished that game with 25, then in the next five had 29, 26, 20, 34 and 13, the last game against Shady Spring. He rebounded when Coles returned against Beckley scoring 27.
Gabbert averaged 21.1 points per game and had 40 3s, 25 in the last six games.
He and Coles are the only duo in the area averaging over 20 points per game.
With that two headed monster intact for the postseason, Greenbrier East is a hand full for any team to stop.
The Spartans also feature an outstanding supporting cast, including two players who were former starters who now come off the bench.
Coach Bimbo Coles more than once lauded those players as “true team players” and pointed to the depth it has provided the Spartans. Five other players had double figure games, including Adam Seams, Tucker Via, Monquelle Davis, Sam Aultz and Goose Gabbert, who sustained a broken wrist and is likely out for the season. Quinton Wilson had two games of nine points.
With that firepower it will be tough to stop Greenbrier East. THe biggest potential pitfall may be the Spartans are coming off a second 15-day layoff of the season.
Oak Hill had its own Covid delay this season. After winning its first three games upon return, the Red Devils are currently on a three-game losing streak, including losses to section foes Woodrow and Princeton.
Both those games were winnable contests, the Red Devils falling to Woodrow 53-48 and Princeton 65-58.
The Red Devils junior Jacob Perdue has been consistent for Oak Hill, averaging 16.9 points with eight double figure games in 10 starts (he had eight and nine in the other two. He is also one of just two players in the area with at least two 3s in every game, along with James Monroe’s Shad Sauvage. Perdue has 30 3s.
Ethan Vargo-Thomas has really come on after the Red Devils covid stoppage, scoring double figures in all six games, including a career-high 21 against PikeView. The sophomore, one of the state’s best young kicking prospects on the football side, averaged 4.0 points pre stoppage and 14.1 points in the six game since. He is averaging 10.1 ppg.
Sammy Crist seems to have regained his early-season scoring form. The junior has scored 40 points in his last two games (21 and 19) and has six of his 15 3s in the last two games. He is averaging 10.5 points per game.
Oak Hill is averaging 7.6 3s per game, third in the area behind Shady Spring (9.2) and the Spartans (8.1) they will face Wednesday.
Tonight Woodrow Wilson and Princeton meet for the second time in a week.
Woodrow continued its improved play with a 60-41 victory over the Tigers on April 15. The game will be in Princeton, where the Tigers turned back the Flying Eagles 65-55 March 23.
Woodrow is one of the few teams in the state that was able to play a full compliment of 18 games.
In that 18 the Flying Eagles faced nine of the 10 teams in the Class AAAA AP Top 10.
Coach Ron Kidd said the schedule had originally been a little more friendly to his young team – but he had to add teams along the way to set up a full schedule for his team.
Ben Gilliam, who Saturday signed to continue his career with Davis and Elkins, finished the regular season averaging a double-double for the second straight year.
Big Ben, a 6-foot-6 player with an old-school mentality, actually averaged more rebounds (12.9) than points (12.6) during the regular season.
Maddex McMillen averaged 11.4 points per game, and 5.9 rebounds and after having four double figure games in his first 11 games (he missed two games early) has scored in double figures in five straight. He had a career-high 29 against Bluefield.
Elite freshman Elijah Redfern is finally healthy and averaged 8.2 ppg, including four double figure games in the last five. He is 19-24 (79.2%) at the line, key for a team shooting 59 percent at the line.
Dwayne Richardson averages 8.2 and leads the team with 3.8 assists.
Keynan Cook averaged 7.6 points and K.K. Slay averages 5.4.
Princeton has had a solid season, its only losses during a 10-win season coming to South Charleston, PikeView and Woodrow.
Lay-Lay Wilborn has been one of the real surprises in the area, averaging 20.2 points per game. Until being held to six points against Woodrow (the only two games he was held under 10 were the two games vs. Beckley) he has scored over 22 in the previous four games. He had a career-high 36 against county rival Bluefield (and he had 33 in the other game against the Beavers). He has eight 20-plus games this season.
His teammate Ethan Parsons has also had just two games where he didn’t reach double figures.
Parsons averaged 17.5 point per game and has scored in double figures in eight straight.
Chase Hancock, also averaged in double figures for the Tigers, netting 10.9 points per game with a team-high 25 3s.