There was an abundance of many things Saturday night in the Hidden Valley High School gym. Plenty of top notch players, plenty of talented coaches and plenty of exciting action covered live by the Fox Radio broadcast crew.
One thing that was in short supply? Empty seats.
Playing in front of a raucously vocal standing-room-only crowd, Cave Spring jumped out to an early lead and held on down the stretch for the 63-59 Region 3D championship win. Few in the house expected anything but a shootout and they got their money’s worth.
With the win, the Knights (25-2) get to bring their version of the Duke “Cameron Crazies” to nearby Roanoke College next Friday night in a VHSL Class 3 quarterfinal against Lynchburg’s Liberty Christian. Northside (19-8) hits the road to play Western Albemarle at a neutral site in the Charlottesville area.
Cave Spring center Matt Cagle (in white) goes inside for a slam dunk past Northside defender Trevor Johnson Saturday night in the Region 3D championship.
In the rematch of last year’s Region final won by Northside on this same court, Cave Spring came out of the gate on fire, leading by 11, 18-7, after one quarter. They pushed its advantage to 25-9 midway through the second frame. But, Northside rallied with a 15-8 run to finish the second quarter as Cave Spring headed to the halftime break up 33-24.
“We had to get out of the gate early.” Cave Spring head coach Jacob Gruse noted. “It was nice to see us execute early because we knew Northside would make multiple runs.”
The catalyst of Cave Spring’s attack was senior point guard Jalen Buster, who was charged by the Knight’s coaching staff to bring the ball up court against the ever-trapping Northside defense.
“It was hard because Northside has size and they are aggressive,” Buster noted after the game. “But, we ran our stuff good tonight which was key for the win.”
Northside’s defense chased on the outside, clearly focused on disrupting Cave Spring’s deadly attack from behind-the-arc.
Was Buster surprised of the opportunities to go inside with the Vikings chasing?
“No, we have shooters!,” Buster added with confidence. “I’d say four of our five starters are three-point threats.”
But, the Knight’s inside game proved to be the thorn for Northside, along with holding Viking star Jordan Wooden to single digits.
“Balance, we have to have balance and our guys have to step up,” Gruse pointed out. “Wooden is a great player and we had to limit him. He can go off if you let him and I thought we did a nice job defending him.”
One of the biggest beneficiaries of the inside opportunities was 6-8 senior center Matt Cagle, who had one of his best showings of the season, scoring 14 points. Cagle was modest in assessing his success.
“With the end of the season getting close, I want to do everything possible to help my teammates and my coaches. Everyone on the team stepped it up in practice these last couple weeks, which has helped me play harder.”
Northside’s Jordan Wooden (#14 in green) and Cave Spring’s Parker Huffman (#24) fight for a rebound Saturday night as the Knights prevailed 63-59.
When the second half got underway, Northside started a comeback. Two straight bombs by Viking Jamison Foley cut the Knight lead to five points, but Cave Spring always had an answer to avoid losing the lead. The Knights led 45-39 heading to the final 8 minutes.
Still up 52-46, Buster found 6-8 senior Parker Huffman alone under the basket for a slam dunk rim-hanger for an eight-point Knight advantage, and when Buster went coast-to-coast to thread the Viking defense for a layup and seven-point, 58-51, lead with 1:40 left, Cave Spring looked to have a clean cushion.
But, this was Northside, and nothing comes easy against a Bill Pope coached team. It was time for the fans to hold on to their seats.
Foley struck twice in succession, the second in acrobatic form, from behind-the-arc to cut the Cave Spring lead to 60-59 with just under 10 seconds left. Northside immediately fouled Buster, who made one-of-two from the stripe to put the Knights up 61-59.
Northside rushed the ball up court where they were going for the win. Viking senior Trevor Johnson, who already had hit three times earlier from long range, made his move on the left side to launch, but Cagle alertly stepped out with hands up, and Johnson, attempting to adjust, shuffled his feet and was called for walking.
Northside fouled Cave Spring senior Adnan Jasarevic with 2.3 seconds left, and that proved to be the poison pill for the Vikes. Jasarevic was nothing but net on both to make it 63-59, and in one of the most unusual defensive setups on the ensuing play, Gruse pulled all of his five to the edge of the court to avoid any chance of a foul. With no timeouts left and the length of the court to navigate, Northside was out of options. Talk about a victory formation as the buzzer sounded while the Knight student body stormed the court.
Cave Spring was led in scoring by junior Reed Pendleton’s 15 points, with Jasarevic and Cagle each netting 14 and Buster canning 11.
Northside sophomore Ariyon Journiette had a game-high 17 points for the Vikings, with Foley scoring 17 and Johnson and Wooden each knocking down 9.
Ironically, in a season that had Cave Spring with no true home court, the Knights have used the Hidden Valley gym as its home hardwood twice in the regular season, twice during the River Ridge tournament and three times during Region 3D. Saturday night it was Cave Spring cutting down the nets in their biggest rival’s facility.
Cave Spring will be looking for the student support of its sixth man Friday.
“I can’t wait to play at Roanoke College on Friday night,” Cagle said. “I love the environment there and how you can feel the intensity of the crowd in the gym. The whole team is ready to play hard.”
“Playing at Roanoke College is a huge plus,” Buster added. “We have good energy when we have a lot of fans, so I’m excited to play in front of our crowd.”
“We need the entire community to support us,” Gruse emphasized. “The Cave Crazies need to be rocking on Friday.”
In the spacious Cregger Center, seats will be plentiful, but earplugs. like black tie at a formal, may be required