Call it raucous, call it exciting, call it a defensive battle, call it drama-filled.
The condensed description would be to call it Cave Spring-Northside basketball.
Friday night in the standing-room-only Cave Spring gym, nobody was expecting anything less and nobody was asking for a refund afterward.
The two teams battled until the last 11 seconds tied at 68. Cave Spring had just erased a 15-point deficit in the final 5 1/2 minutes and were at the free throw line for a chance to take their first lead since early in the second half. But when the charity shot drew front iron and the raucous crowd was expecting a bonus 4-minute overtime, in stepped Northside sophomore Nick Crawford.
Crawford took a pass over center-court and launched a high-arching bomb that seemed to take forever to reach its target. Through the net, buzzer sounds, game over.
Was anyone really surprised in this uncanny rivalry between two of the perennial Class 3 powerhouses in the state? One that saw Northside take the Class-3 state title in 2019 and Cave Spring follow suit in 2020.
Certainly not the two head coaches, Cave Spring’s Jacob Gruse and Northside’s Bill Pope.
“It never fails,” Pope noted with a smile as the court was flooded with spectators. “You expect this every game, every year, between these two teams.”
Gruse agreed. “That game felt like a state final.”
The game had its decisive scoring streaks by both teams.
Northside got off to a fast start, jumping out to a 7-0 lead. Cave Spring ramped up its pressure defense and took a 10-point lead before the Vikings closed their deficit to 28-25 heading to the halftime break.
Northside’s offense, led by Sidney Webb, Kai Logan and Ayrion Journiette, got hot and pushed their lead to 17 points with just under six minutes left. Webb would finish with 17 points, Logan with 13 and Journiette with a team-high 22 on the night.
But, Cave Spring came with a ferocious run of their own, fueled by a trapping defense and their signature motion offense that suddenly unraveled the Northside nerves. Riding the shoulders of junior sensation Stark Jones, junior Dylan Saunders and senior Owyn Dawyot, the Knights roared back to knot the game. Saunders would finish with 11 points, Dawyot 18 and Jones with a game-high 26 including three hits from behind-the-arc, 21 points from the field and a perfect 5-of-5 from the charity stripe.
When the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, the two teams combined for 53 points.
For those who like to plan ahead, the rematch takes place in the Northside gym January 17. Plenty of time to get a ticket, get there early and buckle your seatbelt.