Cave Spring’s boys’ basketball team was a little slow getting the fire lit Friday night in the Knights’ gym.
But Midway through the third quarter the Flucos had a prairie fire on their hands.
Rebounding from a slow start and a 6-point deficit in the third quarter, Cave Spring went on a tear against the visiting Fluvanna County Flucos to pull away down the stretch for the 72-54 win in the Class-3 State Quarterfinals.
The Knights advance to play the Northside Vikings this Monday night in the Cave Spring gym with a trip to the state final at the VCU Siegel Center in Richmond, set for Thursday night at 8PM, on the line.
The Vikings advanced Friday night with a come-from-behind 58-56 overtime win against Spotswood on the road in Penn Laird
The first two quarters Friday night had the packed Knight gym on the edge of their seats as the Flucos showed they were no flukes. The Fluvanna team and its fans were sensing an upset.
Cave Spring opened the game with quick scores but Fluvanna wasted no time roaring back to take a 16-10 lead after the first quarter. Although their shots wouldn’t fall in the second, 6ft-5 Knight senior Bryce Cooper kept the train on the tracks with his defensive play, drawing charge after charge on the driving Fluco offense. Cooper would finish the night earning seven back-of-the-head referee signals against Fluvanna, and his effort starting paying dividends in the second half. Fluvanna went to the halftime break up 21-19.
“I thought we came out a little slow,” Cave Spring head coach Jacob Gruse said after the win. “Maybe a little rusty. We got great shots, but we still held Fluvanna to 21 at the half. I honestly felt OK at the half, only down 2, and we wanted to start pounding the ball inside in the second half.”
Gruse’s comments on Cooper’s play?
“Seven Charges!! That has to be a record. What a stud on defense tonight and so unselfish. All he wants to do is win.”
Fluvanna was still ahead by six in the third quarter when Cave Spring brought its flame throwers and the game heated up like a mid-summer picnic. Junior Stark Jones kicked things off with a 3-pointer, one of his 4 on the night. Cooper scored on a nifty spin move in the paint, senior Owyn Dawyot got hot from behind-the-arc and junior 6ft-7 big-man Dylan Saunders began setting up shop in the paint on his way to a game-high 28 points for the Knights. In a snap of the fingers, the Knights had poured in 30 points in the third quarter for a 49-39 lead heading to the final 8 minutes.
“We had great balance at that point,” Gruse noted. “Working the ball inside and out. Shots were falling and we got stops on defense that led to a couple run-outs. The momentum was on our side.”
“The snowball started rolling downhill,” Gruse continued. “Our guys were juiced and our student section got behind us. Stark, Owyn and Dylan…. they’re hard to guard when all three are clicking. It’s what we needed from our team tonight.”
Jones finished with 16 points for Cave Spring, 13 coming after the break. Cooper added 6 and point guard Graham Lilley netted 5 points. The Knights were 16-of-20 (80%) from the free throw line.
Meanwhile, in the third, Fluvanna superstar Bobby Gardner, who was driving for scores earlier, picked up his third and fourth fouls in rapid succession, forcing Fluvanna head coach Heath Bralley to bring him to the bench. Gardner would finish with a team-high 26 points for the Flucos. Teammate Kobe Edmonds added 15 for the Flucos.
“It was huge to get him in foul trouble, “Gruse noted of Gardner. “He’s a really good player.”
With Gardner out, Cave Spring pushed its lead to 20 points in the fourth and the Knights finished by scoring 53 points in the second half.
“We started being more conservative and it didn’t help when I got in foul trouble,” Gardner said on the court afterward. “We had a lot of confidence leading at halftime. I was really surprised the way Cave Spring came back the way they did.”
“In the first half it seemed no one was hitting shots,”Dawyot, who finished with 17 points for Cave Spring, said. “We talked about it and came out with a lot more energy in the second half. I started feeling good on my threes and everybody got going.”
Now, it’s on to Monday night in the Cave Castle where a ticket will be a prized commodity. It will be the fourth matchup between the Knights and Vikings this year.
“”Round-4, The Castle will be rocking, “Gruse pointed out. “Trip to VCU on the line!. How great is this for Cave Spring and Roanoke County!”