That was the challenge the Cave Spring basketball team faced Wednesday night in the cozy confines of the Cave Spring Middle School gym.
The Knights were up to the task at hand.
Pulling away in the final minute on the shoulders of the free throw shooting of junior Adnan Jasarevic, Cave Spring claimed the outright River Ridge District title with the hard-fought 63-57 win over the Pulaski County Cougars. The win capped a brutal 5-game stretch since last week that included wins over Blacksburg, Patrick Henry, Salem and Christiansburg, the latter three all on the road.
Senior night, playing away from their usual home gym, no school for over a week due to school renovation delays, missing a key starter, Tuesday night’s scheduled game being postponed 24 hours due to snow and facing a Pulaski County team that rolled into Southwest County with nothing to lose was a clear-cut recipe for an upset.
“A ton of distractions tonight,” Cave Spring head coach Jacob Gruse noted afterward. “Our guys did a great job refocusing. We’ve had to really do a great job of rolling with the punches.”
Pulaski showed early it had no intentions of being the pushover guests despite entering the game with only two River Ridge wins. The Cougars took advantage of a number of uncharacteristic Knight turnovers, magnified by the absence of guard Jalen Buster who was playing this one out at home with a significant fever. A nip-and-tuck first half saw Pulaski take a 38-36 to the halftime break.
“Not having Jalen was hard,” Gruse pointed out. “We really missed him tonight, but, most importantly, we had others step up. This team is a resilient group.”
The Knights looked ready to take control in the third quarter when they grabbed a five point lead, but Pulaski rallied to close to within 48-47 heading to the final eight minutes. The Cougars kept pressure on the Knights and went up by three, 54-51, before Cave Spring clawed back to hold a 58-57 lead with a minute left.
That’s when free throw shooting took over.
Pulaski missed both ends of a two-shot shooting foul with just under 36 seconds left, and the Cougars immediately sent Jasarevic to the line with a one-and-one, hoping for a miss. No such luck as Jasarevic found nothing but net on both attempts for a 60-57 Cave Spring advantage. A Pulaski turnover on its subsequent possession led to another foul on Jasarevic, and another two points for the Knights that sealed the deal and put the River Ridge trophy, at least at some point in the future, in the new Cave Spring trophy case.
“Adnan was so clutch,” Gruse added. “I have so much confidence when he has the ball in his hands.”
Junior Parker Huffman led the Cave Spring offense with 20 points, including key baskets in the paint when the game was in doubt, and a perfect 2-of-2 from the charity stripe. Senior Crawford Enyart, who joined fellow-seniors Nick Price, Jeremiah Rosarion and Zac Bowling in the pregame ceremonies, added 10 for Cave Spring, while Rosarion and Jasarevic netted 9 points each.
Pulaski was led by junior Dillon Porter’s 19 points, while senior Benjamin Poe cashed in with 14 points for the Cougars.
Cave Spring, 18-4 overall; 11-1 River Ridge, gets a first round bye in River Ridge tournament play next week before a semifinal matchup in the Patrick Henry gym on Wednesday night against an opponent to be determined by first round play on Monday.