After a week-long-plus absence from basketball games due to the recent major snowstorm, fans packing the Northside gym Monday night were probably expecting the Vikings and Cave Spring Knights to look a little rusty in their play.
Cave Spring must have brought a 55-gallon drum of naval jelly on the bus to the Bill Pope Gymnasium.
Riding another signature fast start, playing a choking defense all night and going under, over and around the Viking defense, Cave Spring rolled to the 61-39 win over the ultra-talented Vikings in the battle of one-loss teams.
The Cave Spring victory avenged their only loss of the season to these same Vikings back on December 10 and moved the Knights to 14-1 on the year. Northside fell to 14-2, and the smart money would likely agree there will be future matchups to come down the road from two of the best Class 3 teams in Virginia.
“Northside is a really good team that will play late into the year,” Cave Spring head coach Jacob Gruse noted afterward. “We played really hard tonight. The break (layoff) worried me especially with this being such a big game. But we came out focused.”
The Knights got things going with a flash, scoring the first nine points of the game. Cave Spring’s defense choked off the early Viking offensive attack and when Northside looked to their full-court press to counter, the Knights either raced the ball into front court or threw the ball over the top for breakaway opportunities.
“We have to start fast,” Gruse added. “We wanted to throw the first punch.”
Knight’s junior sensation, Stark Jones, was the early ringleader. Jones opened the scoring with a 3-pointer from the left side and added a breakaway snowbird from over the rim. Cave Spring led 20-10 after the first quarter and pushed their advantage to 36-23 heading to the halftime break. Jones had 19 of the Knights’ 36 points in the first half on his way to a game-high 23.
“Stark was rolling tonight and our guys fed off of him,” Gruse pointed out. “Couldn’t be more happy for Stark; he’s such a great young man.”
Crafty junior point guard Graham Lilley riddled the Vikings all night with his ballhandling on his way to 13 hard-earned points against the Viking pressure. Senior Owyn Dawyot followed with 8 points for the Knights and 6ft-8 junior big-man Dylan Saunders added 7.
The Knights edged the Vikings 5-4 in hits from behind-the-arc, with Jones, Lilley and Dawyot combining for four to go along with junior Joe Ihlenburg’s buzzer-beating trey. Northside’s Ayrion. Journiette had a team-high 14 points for the Vikes, including two of the Northside bombs from long range. Freshman Mykell Harvey canned 8 points for Northside, with one hit from behind-the-arc.
Saunders, who was joined in the paint by 6ft-4 VMI baseball commit Bryce Cooper, made things tough all night for any Viking looking to drive to the hoop.
“We have some very skilled players on this team,” Saunders said as the Cave Spring faithful congregated on the court. “It was huge that we got out to the 9-0 start, because at that point we weren’t rushed and just played our game.”
“Yea, we came out with pressure tonight and it paid off,” Cooper added. “We wanted this game bad and when we got off the bus, the adrenalin hit.”
The Knights continue a grueling 3-game week with a road trip to Christiansburg on Tuesday followed by a matchup of the River Ridge District leaders on Friday night when Patrick Henry invades the Cave Spring gym.