Cave Spring head coach Jacob Gruse preaches defense first in forming his game strategy.
Rebounds and a motion oriented fast paced offense follow close behind. Tuesday night in the Cave Spring gym, Gruse was getting everything he asked for and more.
Riding a suffocating defense that held visiting Blacksburg to only 14 first half points and a productive offense from five starters that combined for all 60 points, Cave Spring rolled to the 60-34 win over the Bruins to capture the River Ridge District Tournament Championship.
Blacksburg, fresh off their upset of second-seed Patrick Henry last Friday night in the Patriot gym, was making its second trip to the Roanoke Valley in four days looking for a repeat against the Knights. The talented Bruins were looking to use their proficiency from behind-the-arc to knock off the Knights after two earlier losses in the regular season.
Cave Spring had other designs.
Knight senior Owyn Dawyot pointed out the defensive strategy Tuesday night.
“We knew they were very good with the long threes and we didn’t want to give any open looks. We were focused on rebounding on both ends and we wanted to put away the game early.”
Gruse echoed Dawyot sentiments.
“Blacksburg is a really good team that can really score with the ball. Only giving up 10 points in the first quarter and 4 in the second was huge for us. I thought we defended very well. We focused on arriving on the catch with high hands. Give Blacksburg no clean looks.”
Cave Spring came out strong on the offensive end due to an outstanding performance by first-time starter Kameron Tinsley who was filling in for regular point guard Graham Lilley. Lilley was out due to an ankle injury suffered during Saturday’s practice. The 6ft-4 sophomore scored 10 points in the first half to set the pace, including a pair of hits from behind-the-arc.
“Graham had the unfortunate injury and Coach needed me to step up,” Tinsley said. “But, this was a team effort tonight.”
“Kam stepped up big time tonight,” Gruse noted. “We knew he could do it. We have a ton of confidence in him. Graham was about 80-90% tonight and should be fully back this week. I think we have six starters, now.”
Dawyot was a scoring machine for the Knights, pouring in a game-high 20 points, including a pair of long-range bombs, several pull-up jumpers and an assortment of acrobatic moves to the rim.
“I simply look for scoring opportunities,” Dawyot explained. “Coach tells me to just play.”
“Owyn? What can you say!” Gruse noted. “He’s playing really well on both ends of the court. I think teams are trying to focus and limit Stark (junior Stark Jones), and Owyn is feasting.” Jones canned 11 points for the Knights.
Cave Spring big-men Dylan Saunders and Bryce Cooper finished with 14 and 5 points, respectfully. Both made the Bruins think twice before venturing into the paint. The Knights improved to 23-1 on the season.
The Knights led 42-26 after three quarters before outscoring the Bruins by 10 in the final frame.
Senior Alex Trexell led Blacksburg with a team-high 8 points, while seniors Sam Davis and Owen Walters followed with six points apiece. Doug Day’s Bruins, a 4D team, advances to regional play against Halifax County.
Cave Spring, the Region 3D #1 seed, now gets a brief break before opening regional tournament play next Tuesday night in the Knight gym against an opponent still to be named because of other district tournaments later this week.
“It’s huge having home court advantage,” Cooper pointed out. “We’re ready.”
“One game at a time,”Dawyot added. “We’re focused.”
“It has to continue to be a team effort,” Gruse noted. “All hands on deck. No one guy can do it by themselves.”
– Bill Turner