Bluefield's Lykel Collier (left) puts up a shot against Robert C. Byrd's Julian Malfregeot.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Flashing grit and toughness, Class AA No. 1 Bluefield seized a chance and earned a chance all at the same time on Friday night.
The Beavers saved their best basketball of the night and made No. 4 Robert C. Byrd pay for a six-plus-minute cold spell in earning a 54-48 win in a tightly contested semifinal at the Charleston Civic Center.
The victory also put Beavers back in the title game after falling to Tug Valley in the same game last year.
"Many teams, they don't get a second chance and we're fortunate to come back again and get this second chance, and hopefully we bring it home this time," Bluefield junior Michael Yost said.
Bluefield shot just 14 of 22 from the free-throw line, with a lot of those misses coming late in the fourth quarter after a 20-for-39 performance Thursday in a win over No. 8 North Marion.
That late shooting, or lack thereof, left the door open for Byrd to hang around to the very end, but the Eagles' ineptitude and Bluefield's unyielding defense was too much to overcome.
"We made a few mistakes in critical times," Byrd coach Bill Bennett said. "We didn't make shots in the second half like we did in the first, obviously. Some of that's attributed to their defense and some of that's attributed to us. One of our goals we had this afternoon was to be in position to win the game with four minutes to go and we were - we were right there. Just a couple of critical times we couldn't get stops and they're hard to stop."
Both teams shot 50 percent or better in the first half and came out firing in the third quarter, but Byrd stalled in the fourth, going scoreless over the first 6:34 during a backbreaking 8-0 spurt.
The long dry spell included two blown wide-open layups on a fast break that resulted in a run-out layup the other way for Anthony Eades.
On the next possession, Justin Noble took a jumper from the high post that was rattling in until Iziah Hill went up for the tip-in and hit the rim with the ball inside the cylinder, resulting in a critical goaltending call.
Meanwhile, Bluefield ran its one-point lead to start the fourth up to nine before Devonti Birch hit a 3 at the 1:26 mark.
"I thought it was a great high school basketball game," Bluefield coach Charles "Buster" Large said. "I just feel like it could have went either way and we were very fortunate to get a little breathing room late in the game and were able to put it away. I thought Robert C. Byrd played an outstanding game."
Bluefield point guard Lykel Collier, who was by far the player in Bluefield's first-round win over North Marion, was nonexistent in terms of first-half scoring and took just one shot.
But he scored four of Bluefield's first seven points in the second half that seemed to get him going, and he was more aggressive in getting his own looks and getting to the foul line moving forward.
Collier's presence was apparent in other areas as the Beavers forced 16 turnovers, including Collier's five steals, while committing only six.
"The coaches told me to be more aggressive in the second half and I just didn't want to let my team down," Collier said. "I didn't want to lose in the semifinals - I'm trying to win a championship this year and I just didn't want to let them down or the community."
He finished with 10 points, as did Yost, while Eades led the way for the Beavers with 15. D.J. Edwards rounded out the double-figure scoring for Bluefield (24-3) with 13.
Birch scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to pace Robert C. Byrd and Nick Dyer chipped in 14 points.
The Beavers' win was their second over the Eagles after Bluefield earned a 72-56 win in the Big Atlantic Classic Class AA championship game on Feb. 2
Bluefield will square off with No. 2 Fairmont Senior at 2:30 this afternoon for the Class AA title.
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.