CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For all the seniors who line the South Charleston boys basketball roster, freshman Brandon Knapper lifted the Black Eagles to familiar March territory.
Knapper scored a game-high 16 points, including eight points in the fourth quarter, as South Charleston defeated Greenbrier East in a Class AAA Region 4 co-final 58-50 Thursday night to advance to the state tournament.
South Charleston will play Morgantown next Thursday at 7:15 p.m. in the first round of the state tournament.
For SC Coach Vic Herbert and his senior class, the trip to the Civic Center marks the fourth consecutive, but for Knapper it's his first.
"I've been working hard in practice, getting time with the first team, and I just got that feeling I can score, I can contribute to my team and lead my team to states," Knapper said.
The third-ranked Black Eagles led throughout the game, but No. 9 Greenbrier East trailed by just three points following a 3-pointer by Spartan junior Rondale Watson to begin the fourth quarter.
That's when Knapper stepped up his game, joined by fellow freshman Kentre Grier. Knapper and Grier accounted for the Black Eagles' next eight points to keep the Spartans from drawing any closer.
"They stepped up real big - Kentre and Brandon," SC senior Ra'Shaud Kincaid said. "They step up every game and they come in and play well, play as a team. We give them the ball and they contribute."
Knapper made all six of his free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter and finished the game a perfect 9-of-9 from the line.
Knapper's final pair of free throws extended the SC lead to 10 with 33.5 seconds remaining in the game. Greenbrier East cut the deficit to six with 15.7 seconds left, but Kincaid sealed the win with his own pair from the line.
With starter A.D. Cunningham absent due to a right knee injury, starter Devyn Harris playing with the flu and two players recently gone from the program, Knapper and Grier entered from the bench to provide much-needed, late-game clutch efforts.
"It seems like every time this year we've had a suspension, or an injury, or a sickness, somebody on that bench has stepped up and filled in for the starter and done a great job," Herbert said, "and that's what happened tonight.