The Cave Spring coaching staff wasn’t looking for the Ghostbusters Friday night at Roanoke College’s Cregger Center.
Head coach Jacob Gruse simply dialed up 6-8 senior center Parker Huffman.
Going inside with regularity to the Christopher Newport signee, Cave Spring held off a deadly three-point attack by the Liberty Christian Bulldogs, pulling away down the stretch for the 65-52 Class 3 State Quarterfinal victory.
Cave Spring, as the number-1 seed, advances to play Woodstock-Central, a school located in the Shenandoah Valley between New Market and Strasburg, Tuesday night at 8 PM as part of a triple header at the Salem Civic Center. Radford-Gate City boys open the festivities at 4 PM, followed by Lord Botetourt-Booker T. Washington girls at 6.
LCA rolled into Salem Friday night with a scouting report of three-point accuracy and some vulnerability on defense against the inside game. Gruse followed script and Huffman was the poison pill.
Huffman scored a game-high 18 points, 12 in the first half, to go along with 11 rebounds that finished off the double-double. And, if LCA overplayed Huffman at any time with its smaller lineup, the remaining cast of Knight Ghostbusters was ready to spook the Bulldogs. Junior Reed Pendleton canned 15 points, floor-leader Jalen Buster netted 11 and senior Adnan Jasarevic knocked down 10 for Cave Spring. All three hit from long range, including a pair from Jasarevic.
But, it was Liberty Christian who carried the damaging 3-point attack, and it came as advertised. The Bulldogs hit 10 times from behind-the-arc, with five different players cashing in from long range. LCA’s ball movement was precise, often springing the open bomb. And, the Bulldogs kept fighting despite the obvious size disadvantage. But, in the end, with LCA having to guard the Cave Spring perimeter, the battle down low against Huffman and 6-7 Knight senior Matt Cagle proved to be the deciding factor.
“Man, they were on fire,” Gruse noted after the game on the LCA bombs. “They really spread the floor and shot it well. I thought our guys adjusted well and contained the basketball better which led to shorter close outs and helped us contest their shots better.”
Cave Spring went to Huffman after Cagle got the opening tip for a quick score, and the Knights were off to the races with an 8-0 lead. But, LCA senior guard Rynning Bohrnstedt hit three times from long range, and the Bulldogs had pulled to within 18-13 after the first quarter.
The Bulldogs kept coming to start the second frame, and when senior Connor Hartless and junior sixth-man Haddon Smith went back-to-back with treys midway through the second, LCA took its first lead of the game, 21-20. Jalen Leftwich added a free throw to give the Bulldogs it’s biggest lead of the night at 22-20, and after Cave Spring answered with 4 points, Hartless went deep again to put the Bulldogs up 25-24.
When Huffman scored down low moments later, Cave Spring retook the lead 26-25 and never trailed again. The Knights went to the halftime break up 30-27.
“Parker was really, really good tonight,” Gruse said. “I thought he was good offensively, defensively and on the boards. Proud of his effort.”
Cave Spring kept pushing the pedal in the third and LCA began to cool from behind-the-arc. The Knights led 48-40 after three quarters, but with LCA hitting 41.7% from long range on the night, the Bulldogs kept the game within reach.
Liberty Christian scored to open the fourth quarter to cut their deficit to 48-42, but Jasarevic led a Cave Spring charge capped off by key LCA errors midway in the frame. None bigger than a botched inbounds play that led to a steal and breakaway layup by Pendleton that sent the raucous Cave Crazies into roaring approval. Hollywood Pendleton had put the dagger in. The Knights led 59-45.
“Every game has its own unique game plan,” Gruse pointed out. “We have to find different ways to win games and figure out our matchups. Really glad that we have an unselfish group that understands that.”
Smith got LCA back to within single digits with a trey with just over a minute left, his third of the game, but Buster found Huffman for an easy snowbird, and Buster and senior Lucas Duncan finished the deal by converting free throws.
Junior guard Jalen Leftwich had a team-high 17 points for LCA and pulled down 8 boards, with Hartless scoring 12, along with Bohrnstedt and Smith canning 9 points each. LCA finished 21-7.
The win, the 26th for the Knights this season, was a milestone, surpassing the all-time win totals of Cave Spring state championship teams in 2002, 2009 and 2010 led by the likes of J.J. Redick, Josh Henderson, Clay Lacy and Greg Mackey.
By joining a group like that, you don’t gotta call ….Ghostbusters!