by Bill Turner
Cave Spring junior Connor Baker hit a 15-foot runner with four seconds left as the Knights captured the Region IV Division 3 championship with a 61-59 win over Abingdon last Friday night in the Cave Spring gym.
Cave Spring advances to the state quarterfinals this Friday night (Mar. 2nd) in an 8:45 tipoff against the Waynesboro Little Giants at the Salem Civic Center, with a trip to the VHSL Final-4 in Richmond awaiting the winner.
The Knights fought an uphill battle all evening against a hot-shooting Abingdon team that entered the game with an 11-14 record. The Falcons junior forward Mack Owens (31 points) and sophomore guard Josh Hess (19 points) found the Cave Spring hardwood to their liking as Abingdon jumped out to an early 19-12 lead in the first quarter, and held a 33-27 advantage at the halftime break.
Abingdon built a 43-31 lead midway through the third quarter, leading to Cave Spring head coach Billy Hicks calling for a timeout to regroup his troops.
“I looked at our bench during that timeout and knew we were down and frustrated,” Hicks said afterward. “Owens and Hess were tough matchups; awesome players. “We couldn’t get a stop and couldn’t get a big shot to go down to get us going.”
Abingdon led 47-40 at the end of three quarters, but Cave Spring kept battling and the Falcon lead began to dwindle. When Cave Spring leading scorer Amin Abuhawwas drained a bomb from behind the arc with 5:37 left to cut the Abingdon lead to 49-45, the Knights and the partisan Cave Spring faithful got new energy for the final comeback.
Cave Spring finally tied the game at 59 with under a minute left, and Abingdon seemed ready to play for the final shot. With 29 seconds left, Baker stole an ill-advised Falcon pass and the Knights called a timeout to set the potential game-winner.
Abingdon was expecting a play geared to Abuhawwas, and with the 6’2″ Knight center blanketed, Baker drove into the teeth of the Falcon defense, launching the arcing rainbow that found the net.
Abingdon raced the ball upcourt, but Owens’ 35-footer at the buzzer bounded harmlessly off the top of the backboard.
Chaos ensued as the Cave Spring overflow student section stormed the court to mob Baker and his fellow teammates in celebration.
“We finished the year 14-0 on this court,” Hicks pointed out. “There was no quit…these guys kept fighting.”
“This team learned a life lesson tonight- never give up,” Hicks added.
Abuhawwas led the Cave Spring scoring with 18 points, with Ryan Gladfelter adding 16. Jon Evans tossed in 7 for the Knights with Baker, likewise, chipping in 7.
For Baker, however, two of those seven were the biggest of his career.