Bradley recalls Red Devils’ 1989 win over Spartans » High School Sports » The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia
May 15, 2011
It’s already being remembered as a sectional tournament game, though it wasn’t.
By the time we’re all old and gray, it will have become a state championship game.
But I digress.
Oak Hill’s numerically challenged 21-18 win over Greenbrier East in 1989 is something I had always hoped to look into because it just didn’t add up, so to speak.
Truth is, the game was a regular-season contest in the dead of winter — January 27, 1989 — in Fairlea.
This one solidified the adage that fact is often as entertaining as fiction.
Oak Hill was on its way to winning the Class AAA state championship.
The Red Devils were loaded, with stars like P.G. Greene and Keith Shelton, multi-sport standout Shannon Morrison and young star Romel “Stuff” Lynch.
It might have been the best team ever assembled at Oak Hill, though the 1984 state title team was pretty darn good in its own right.
The Red Devils were coached by the legendary Jim Lilly.
It would be the late coach’s final season at the school, a season that would end at 26-1.
Greenbrier East’s coach was first-year man Jerry Bradley, who earlier this week announced he was stepping down and will take over as the school’s athletic director.
He remembers the game well.
Contrary to popular belief, Greenbrier East wasn’t necessarily trying to take the air out of the ball.
In a game at county rival Greenbrier West three nights before — it was a big game back then — East’s leading scorer, Mike Dolin, was involved in a fracas that eventually spilled into the stands and was ejected.
That meant he had to sit out of the next game, which just happened to be against Oak Hill, the No. 2 team in the state at that point.
A couple weeks earlier, Oak Hill had beaten the Spartans 95-73 in the Fayette County Memorial Building in Fayetteville, and Greene, the eventual state player of the year, had 38 points, and five Red Devils scored in double figures.
Without Dolin, who had 24 in that game (eight 3s), it looked like a mismatch of mythical proportions.
“We didn’t intend to hold it,” said Bradley, who still has the practice notes prior to that game. “On the notes, it says, ‘Control the pace, control the pace.’ (Assistant coaches) Jay (Dyche), Peck (Dorsey) and Cub (Curry) and I talked about it. We did say we were going to pass it around and see what we could get but not intentionally hold the ball.”
The Spartans won the tip.
“Mike Kidd was doing play-by-play, and I remember him saying — and these were his exact words — ‘Now the Spartans will take the air out of the ball,” Spartans radio voice Jeff Campbell said.
Oak Hill stayed steadfastly in Lilly’s 2-3 matchup zone. So East worked the ball. And worked the ball. For over three minutes before Junior Bostic scored on a backdoor cut.
Oak Hill’s Keith Shelton immediately hit a 3 (West Virginia had just put in the 3 the year before) to make it 3-2.
Again, the Spartans held and eventually went backdoor. Jimmy Banton was fouled and made both free throws to make it 4-3.
Shelton again made a 3, making it 6-4. He wouldn’t score again.
Oak Hill led 8-4 after one, and 13-8 at the half.
“I looked at coach Dyche at the half and said, ‘You wanna come out of it,’” Bradley said. “He said, ‘Heck no, coach, we got them right where we want them.’”
As long as Lilly was going to stay in the zone, the Spartans were going to hold, but again, not necessarily stall, the ball.
The decision came much to the chagrin of many Oak Hill players. Some even commented about the tactics hurting their averages.
Greene averaged about 26 a game that season. He didn’t score until the second half and finished with four.
In fact, one of those was late in the game, when Greene broke away for a slam dunk to put Oak Hill up 21-16.
However, he was whistled for a technical for hanging on the rim.
Banton made both free throws.
Greenbrier East got possession, and Bostic rimmed out a 3 at the horn, and Oak Hill escaped a near catastrophe.
Lynch, a sophomore, would lead the Red Devils with seven. Banton led all scorers with nine.
It was truly a classic, even if it may not have been aesthetically pleasing in terms of basketball quality.
“I had a lot of memorable games that year, and I would put that up there,” Bradley said. “Beating Princeton in Ralph Ball’s final regular-season game as a coach was big. Nearly beating South Charleston there, and then here — those were memorable. But that Oak Hill game was up there.”
Over the years, Bradley and Lilly became close, and the East coach would often visit Lilly at his cabin on the Greenbrier River to fish.
“He made some really good biscuits,” Bradley said. “And, he would show me his matchup zone and his sideline break. He always told me that we should have saved holding the ball for the sectional tournament.”
That ended up in another Oak Hill rout.
High school basketball has its moments today. But there is nothing quite like the good old days and the growing of a myth, where fact is often just as good as fiction.