By Dave Morrison
ESPN Radio 102.3 The Ticket
CHARLESTON – Lincoln wasn’t even in the official program of the 2017 state tournament.
Safe to say that Bluefield now recognizes the Cougars.
Chase Riley scored 28 points and No. 7 Lincoln (13-13) upset No. 2 seed Bluefield Thursday in the Class AA state tournament quarterfinals.
Class A St. Josephs was placed on the page where Lincoln was supposed to be in the program.
“We found out that we weren’t in the program yesterday at practice,” Coach Jordan Toth said. “The kids kind of laughed about it, ‘How can this happen?’ Motivation. ‘We’re not even in the program, let’s go out and win this thing.’”
They didn’t in the whole thing but they did pull off the shocker of the tournament so far, and, in the process, eliminated the last Region 3 team from the tournament.
Up 61-59, Bluefield had the ball and a chance to tie. Cody Fuller’s 3 for the lead with time running out was off the mark. It ended up being a runout for Lincoln and, fittingly, it was Riley who finished it off.
“We were trying to get a good shot and we didn’t get the shot we wanted,” Bluefield coach Buster Large said. “They had a great game plan. Hats off to them. That’s what this state tournament is all about.”
Bluefield led 42-40 going to the fourth quarter, and led at the half 26-24 and 14-12 after the first quarter. In fact, Bluefield led for 17:02 of game time.
The largest lead was 23-14, Bluefield, after a 9-0 run early in the second quarter.
But a 10-3 run to the end of the second quarter changed that and brought the Beavers’ lead down to two at the break.
It turned out to be a key run, and, interestingly enough, Riley did not score on that spree.
He did enough of that in the fourth, when he had 16 points. Every time Lincoln needed a big basket, Riley was there.
“He’s done that for us all year,” Toth said. “We rode him all year. He’s our workhorse, he’s our stud out there and I thought he did a good job of getting into the game. He missed a few early that he usually makes, but we didn’t panic, and he didn’t panic.”
Lincoln entered the tournament with a 12-13 record, the lone sub-.500 team in the field.
“I think we looked at their record some and thought we wouldn’t have a problem doing what we do,” Bluefield’s Mookie Collier said. “We probably underestimated them. They played their hardest and they won the game.”
Collier led Bluefield with 24 points, his eighth game of 22-plus points in the last nine games. He finished the season averaging 19.5 points per game. Ryan Davis added 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Cory Fazalare had 11 points for Lincoln
It was Bluefield’s fourth trip to the Class AA state tournament but their third straight loss in the quarterfinals.
For Lincoln is was like a dream.
“I’ve been down here at the state tournament watching games since I was five years old,” Riley said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to come down here and play. To have this kind of performance against a two-seed and two win a game we really weren’t supposed to win is an unbelievable feeling. It’s the experience of a lifetime.”
Even if they aren’t in the state tournament program.