Cave Spring came out of the gate on fire, looking ready to pick up right where they left off from last year’s state title. Sophomore Stark Jones, a transfer to Cave Spring from Roanoke Catholic over the summer, put on a show in the opening minutes. Jones scored the game’s first points on a driving runner, followed with a bomb from behind-the-arc and capped off his run with an old-fashioned score and harm that he converted with the free throw. When Knights big man Dylan Saunders followed with a score, Cave Spring was up 10-0.
Tuesday night’s Cave Spring-Northside boys basketball game featured one major difference from recent years in the annual matchup between two of the most successful Class 3 programs in the state.
In the 2019 Class 3 state semifinal at Roanoke College, Northside knocked off Cave Spring in front of well over 2,000 raucous fans on their way to claiming the Vikings’ first basketball state championship, and first title for head coach Bill Pope.
Last season, Cave Spring returned the favor with a Regional final win over the Vikings played in front of an overflow crowd in the Hidden Valley High School gym that propelled the Knights to the Class 3 state title and first for Cave Spring head coach Jacob Gruse.
It was easier to estimate the attendance Tuesday night in the Bill Pope Gymnasium as the two met for the first of two matchups in the abbreviated 8-game Roanoke County 5-team schedule due to COVID-19 restrictions. Take away game and school officials, media and the Northside cheerleading squad stationed in the stands, and the crowd totaled just about zero.
The big losers were the fans not allowed in the gym due to the pandemic restrictions. The two teams put on a pretty entertaining show.
In the end, Northside rode an unheard-of rally late in the first quarter, and the Vikings held on down the stretch for the 61-54 win. The victory pushed Northside to 2-0 on the season, following up its win last Friday night over Hidden Valley. It was Cave Spring’s season opener.
But, the flood of Knight points quickly dried up, and Northside suddenly got hot from long range. Three successive 3-pointers got the Vikings rolling and before the Northside scoring run ended early in the second quarter, Northside had scored 30 unanswered points to take a 30-10 advantage.
“I have to admit I was a little concerned when Cave Spring had the big start and we were down 10-0,” Pope noted outside the Viking locker room after the game. “But I knew we had a good team and our guys could execute. They stayed on track, started moving the ball and hitting shots. They pulled together and executed very well. I’m sure in all my years as a head coach, I’ve never had a team score 30 straight points in a game.”
After Jones ended the bleeding for the Knights with a score early in the second frame, Cave Spring started chiseling away at the Viking lead. Northside led 39-24 at the halftime break, but after the Knights outscored the Vikings 20-9 in the third quarter, the Northside advantage was down to 48-44 to start the final 8 minutes.
The Vikings responded by scoring the first 6 points of the fourth to push their lead to 10, and Cave Spring couldn’t get the deficit below six points the rest of the way.
Northside was led by Ayrion Journette’s 25 points, with Jamison Foley adding 23 and 9 rebounds. Lawrence Cole chipped in 9 points for the Vikings, as those three combined for all but 4 of the Northside points.
Cave Spring was led by 21 points from Saunders, with Jones canning 12. Senior Charlie Urgo and junior Bryce Cooper each added 9 points for the Knights.