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BC to Honor '98-'99 Men's Basketball Team

Fifteen years ago this spring, the 1998-’99 Bluefield College men’s basketball team made history. The milestone: an upset win over nationally ranked number three Southern Oregon University in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division II National Tournament -- a feat no other team has ever accomplished at BC.

Chris Shoemaker

February 11, 2014

Register/RSVP for the tribute reception and reunion.
BC's historic 1998-'99 men's basketball team.

 

On Saturday, March 1, the college will honor members of the historic ’98-’99 Rams squad with a reception at noon in Shott Hall. As part of the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the landmark win, members of the team, other former basketball players and all BC alumni, fans, family and friends are invited to return to the Dome Gymnasium at 2 p.m. for a current BC basketball doubleheader and a reunion to reminisce and revel about the 1999 National Tournament run.

 

 

“That team and its unexpected bid to play in the National Tournament will forever be remembered by Bluefield College sports fans,” said Chris Shoemaker, 20-year director of public relations, who chronicled the team’s success. “To make the National Tournament after the adversity they had faced was remarkable enough, but to win a game and against the number three team in the country -- that was unbelievable!”

 

The adversity began for the Rams just weeks before the ’98-’99 season began when head coach Walt Ayers departed for a position with a Naval Academy Preparatory School in Rhode Island. In came first-year coach Tommy Brown to lead the team into competitive Tennessee-Virginia Athletic Conference (TVAC) play.

 

Not long after, the Rams lost starter Ben Beshears, who was averaging more than 20 points per game, to a season-ending injury. As a result of these and other setbacks along the way, BC finished the regular season with an overall 12-16 win-loss record.

 

But, in the first round of the TVAC post-season tournament, the Rams upset third-seed Virginia Intermont College to advance to semi-final action against Tennessee Wesleyan College, the TVAC’s second place team. The magic continued for BC as they shocked Wesleyan to earn a spot in the TVAC title game against nationally ranked, 27-4, Milligan College, the conference’s regular season champs.

 

Milligan beat the Rams, but the impressive late-season run and second place finish in the TVAC tournament was good enough to qualify BC for the NAIA National Tournament in Nampa, Idaho. With an overall record of 14-17, the Rams drew the nation’s third best NAIA team, Southern Oregon, in the first round. The Raiders were 22-8 overall, champions of the Cascade Conference and riding a nine-game winning streak.

 

Despite the David-Goliath script, BC didn’t back down from SOU. In fact, the Rams led, 47-41, at halftime and trailed the NAIA power by just one, 86-85, with nine seconds remaining in the game. BC fouled the Raiders with five seconds to play, and SOU hit just one of two free throws to take an 87-85 and to set up the miracle scenario for the Rams.

 

Going the near distance of the floor in less than five seconds, BC’s Jimmy Stemple launched a desperation, off-balance, 30-foot three-point jumper that went in at the buzzer to give BC the improbable 88-87 win.

 

“It was definitely out of my comfortable range,” said Stemple about his 30-foot jumper at the buzzer, “but just like I said, as soon as it left my hand, I knew it was going in.”

 

Stemple hit two threes, including the game winner, in the final minutes of the game to finish with seven points. He also added 12 assists. Senior guard Toby Curry led the Rams in scoring with 20 points. Andre Law, R.J. Stewart and Wes Wilson contributed 15 apiece -- Wilson’s from five for six shooting behind the arc. Brian Maynard recorded a double-double: 12 points and a dominating 12 rebounds. Gillis Walker chipped in four points.

 

“Unbelievable!” said Coach Brown after the game. “This is the biggest upset of the tournament. It was our most balanced scoring effort of the year. It was great!”

 

The BC win was the biggest upset of the 1998-’99 NAIA National Tournament. In fact, it marked the first time in NAIA National Tournament history that a number three seed was eliminated in the first round -- a record that still stands today. In addition, despite a number of outstanding BC teams who have qualified for the NAIA National Tournament since, it is the only men’s basketball National Tournament win in Bluefield College history.

 

“This year, I’ve learned not to be surprised by anything,” said Coach Brown after the upset. “We’ve had so many ups and downs. I’ve seen this team make some tremendous comebacks. I wasn’t surprised -- happy, but not surprised.”

 

Other members of the ’98-’99 Rams included players Donnie Costigan, Eric Thompson, Joe Shipbaugh, Shawn Whitlock, Lee Meadows, Jason Mondrage and Eric Williams, and assistant coaches Rodd Welker and David Rabe.

 

In addition to honoring the historic ’98-’99 men’s basketball team during the noon reception on March 1, the college will recognize the players and coaches during the current Rams’ doubleheader that day against Campbellsville University in the Dome. The Lady Rams play at 2 p.m. and the men at 4 p.m. A special area will be reserved for alumni in the upper concourse of the Dome. Alumni and friends are encouraged to RSVP for the reception and the games. Those who do will receive a reduced $1 admission and a Bluefield College pennant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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