CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Don't look now, but the Beckley boys basketball team that began the season with four losses in its first eight games might be playing the best basketball in the state a week before tournament time.
It should not come as a surprise to fans of the sport. After all, the Class AAA No. 3 Flying Eagles (17-4) have 16 state championship banners to prove their credibility as a program.
Still, Beckley's 77-60 win over second-ranked South Charleston (18-2) in the Mountain State Athletic Conference championship game Saturday night at the South Charleston Community Center was - to this point - the crowning achievement of a season that once looked destined for failure.
"We just got tired of losing. Something had to change. Our motto is 'Refuse to lose' but we just kept losing. That's what we showed tonight, was that our hearts are in this," said junior guard Donte Nabors, who had 25 points and five rebounds in the win.
"We let them back into the game a little bit at times, but we fought back and got the win."
Nabors then added a thought that went beyond the sweltering gyms and freezing weather so commonly associated with high school basketball.
"We know we have to do something for Beckley," he said.
Beckley Coach Ron Kidd, who has coached two Class AAA state championship teams (2004, '08) closed his eyes and smiled when asked for clarification of Nabors' comment.
"If there's any kid that knows what it means to live up to a reputation and a tradition, it's Donte," Kidd said. "It's hard to play for Beckley. There's a lot of criticism that comes with it, and you're under a microscope a lot of the time. With him, it's even more because of his family, because of Gene and because of Brian."
Gene Nabors and Brian Nabors are assistant coaches at Beckley, and Gene - who played at LSU and Robert Morris - is Donte's father.
"What Donte means is that there's a standard to live up to, that the community expects, and the community responds to success. They need that," Kidd said.
Beckley finishes its regular season with a game at Oak Hill on Friday. The Flying Eagles are part of Class AAA's Region 3, which includes South Charleston, No. 4 Greenbrier East (17-2), No. 8 George Washington (16-4) and Princeton (16-5).
"I think we're ready. We've got to keep focus, keep playing hard and play one game at a time," junior forward Chase Hancock said after his 19-point, 11-rebound showing against SC.
Beckley starting point guard Andrew Johnson is the team's only senior.
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GEORGE WASHINGTON Coach Rick Greene noted Saturday that aside from the Patriots' blowout losses to South Charleston (60-40 on Dec. 19) and Beckley (74-51 on Jan. 30) as well as blowout wins by GW, the average score of his team's games this season has been 58-54 in favor of GW.
It thus came as little surprise to Greene or seniors Luke Eddy and Austin Breeden that their win over Hurricane in the MSAC third-place game came down to the wire.
GW overcame a 50-45 deficit in the final 4 minutes Saturday in South Charleston to win 51-50. The Redskins did not score past the 4:09 mark of the final quarter.