Cave Spring’s Magical Run Falls Short In 48-33 State Final Loss

Cave Spring #24 Connor Baker motors past Brunswick defender #3 Antawn Valentine in the state final at VCU Saturday afternoon. Baker's three-pointer and two free throws got Cave Spring to within 6 points midway through the fourth.

by Bill Turner

Cave Spring’s boys’ basketball team came up just short last Saturday afternoon, as the Knights dropped the Group AA Division 3 state final 48-33, against a Brunswick team that came in as the defending champion.

Cave Spring fell behind early, but stayed within reasonable distance to the Brunswick school that was making its sixth consecutive appearance in the championship contest. The Knights had defeated Brunswick in the 2009 and 2010 finals that secured back-to-back state titles for Cave Spring.

For the Knights, few had expected that the road to Richmond would have been paved by a fourth quarter come-from-behind win over Abingdon in the Regional final, followed by a victory over Waynesboro in the state quarterfinal and a gutsy triumph over heavily favored Fluvanna County in last Tuesday’s state semifinal matchup.

A partisan Brunswick crowd packed Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center for the showdown, and high school basketball’s biggest stage may have proved somewhat unsettling for the Knights.

“I thought we came out a little tight,” Cave Spring Head Coach Billy Hicks noted afterward.

But, Cave Spring narrowed what had been a 15 point lead to six points midway through the fourth quarter, and had the ball to potentially close to within one possession.

Brunswick, with superior speed and height, regrouped for a 10-0 run down the stretch, pulling away in final three minutes.

“My hat’s off to Brunswick,” Hicks said. “They were absolutely the better team today.”

Cave Spring opened the game with a plan to pack in the defense, to hopefully entice Brunswick into shooting 3-pointers.

Hicks plan worked to perfection as the Bulldogs fired up seven shots from behind the arc in the first quarter, making only one.

On the other end of the court, Cave Spring ran into what would become its downfall. Brunswick was tall and athletic on defense, and few Knights’ shots went uncontested. The Bulldogs led 15-4 after one quarter.

A Shaquille Jones layup gave Brunswick a 21-6 lead with 2:00 left in the first half, before Cave Spring closed to 23-11 at the halftime break.

Cave Spring defensive anchor, Jordan Bryant, said Brunswick’s 6’6” Brandan Stith, son of Bulldog head coach and all-time UVA leading scorer, Bryant Stith, was the big difference.

“Brandan Stith is so long, he affected everybody’s shot,” Bryant said. “It was tough. The length they had affected everybody.”

Brunswick’s advantage remained in double digits throughout the third quarter, before Cave Spring leading scorer Amin Abuhawwas scored in the paint and was fouled with 1:02 left. The free throw cut the Bulldog lead to 31-21 heading to the final frame.

Cave Spring offered one last push that got Brunswick’s attention. When junior Connor Baker hit a long-range bomb with 5:24 left, and followed with a pair of free throws at the 4:11 mark, the Knights were within striking range at 33-27.

The Knights had the opportunity to make it a one-possession game after Bulldog Alfred Mason III rimmed out both of a pair of free throw attempts, but Cave Spring had two good looks from behind the arc rattle out, and the Bulldogs scored the next ten points.

“I was all smiles on the sideline when we cut it to six and had the ball,” Hicks pointed out. “That was our window.”

Cave Spring was led in scoring by Abuhawwas’ 16 points. Baker added 7, with Aaron Cupp and Ryan Gladfelter chipping in 4 and 3, respectively, Jon Evans (2) and Alex Couture (1) rounded out the Knight’s scoring.

Jones scored a game-high 17 for Brunswick, with Brandan Stith adding 12, and Mason 11. Broderick Stith and Antawn Valentine each tallied 4 points for the Bulldogs.

“Neither team shot well,” Hicks added. “We were 9-of-43 (20.9 percent) from the field. The Brunswick defense had a lot to do with that.”

“The first two Brunswick possessions set the tone,” Hicks noted. “They missed, got the rebound, and scored.”

“A lot of players stepped up this season,” Hicks said of his Knight squad. “We lost 4 games in overtime; otherwise, we could have been a 22-win team.”

“We dedicated the season to Kendall Bayne,” Hicks added. “She was such an inspiration.”

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