Cave Spring senior Bryce Cooper is pretty well known throughout the Knight’s Southwest County campus.
The prestigious Cave Spring Knight himself, handsome and debonaire in his walk, and a hard-nose leader on the Cave Spring basketball team. A guy who specializes in tough defense, taking charges in bunches, pulling down rebounds, while tossing down a few points along the way.
Monday night in the Cave Spring gym Cooper scored a workmanlike 9 points. The final two of his career on the Knight hardwood will be remembered by Cave Spring fans for years to come.
Facing overtime against the visiting Northside Vikings with a state final berth on the line, Cooper took an inbounds pass on the left baseline with 1.9 seconds left on the clock. Without hesitation in a lightning-fast move to the basket, Cooper raced around Northside superstar Ayrion Journiette. He left his feet and headed to the basket with nothing but air between him and the rim. Kiss off the backboard, nothing but net as the final buzzer sounded.
Pandemonium ensued from the Cave Spring players, fans and student section as Northside and its faithful looked on in stunned disbelief. The Knight’s student section flooded the court, going over, under and around the railing that separates the bleachers from the court.
“Bryce all the way,” Cave Spring head coach Jacob Gruse noted after the win of the designed play. “We had to get something at the rim. The potential results of him going to the basket all went in our favor. I had all the trust in the world in him.”
“It was a play we run at the end of practice quite often,” Cooper said in the jubilant Knight locker room where a bathing suit was more fitting as the attire. “I was shocked. I made my move and didn’t see anybody. I knew I had time to get to the rim.”
When asked if it was the biggest basket of his Cave Spring career, the 6ft-5 forward responded. “Oh, yea! 100% the biggest basket.”
The game had built up for four days after Cave Spring had come from behind to beat Fluvanna County and Northside did the same in overtime against Spotswood last Friday night.
Tickets for Monday night’s showdown, the fourth meeting of the season by these pair of juggernauts, were a prized commodity. Cave Spring’s allotment sold out in three minutes on Saturday; Northside’s in five.
“Both teams have a rich tradition,” Gruse pointed out. “Both are great programs. Roanoke County should be proud of both teams.”
Northside came out of the gate on fire. They hit five bombs from behind-the-arc in the first quarter on their way to a 21-14 lead after the first 8 minutes. Like a heavyweight prizefight, Cave Spring came off the mat to go up 30-28 heading into the halftime break.
“Northside shot it so well early,” Gruse said. “Give them credit.”
The game went back and forth in the third quarter before the score tied at 42 heading to the final frame.
The Vikings pulled out to a four-point lead down the stretch when junior Lawrence Cole converted on a score and harm with 2:32 left in the game. Northside led 53-49.
Cave Spring senior Owyn Dawyot hit a crucial 3-pointer with under two minutes left to close the Knight deficit, and after Viking Sidney Webb was called for charging, Cave Spring point guard Graham Lilley found an opening for a layup to put the Knights up by one point.
Northside set up a final play for the winner, and looked to be in the catbird’s seat when sophomore Kai Logan was fouled on his 3-pointer from the left side with under 6 seconds left, sending him to the line for three free throws. Logan calmly sank the first to knot the game at 56, and Gruse called a time out.
“Logan is a great player and we had to try to ice him,” Gruse noted of the strategy. “Just trying to give my team a chance to win.”
The strategy paid dividends when Logan missed on his final two from the charity stripe, and Cave Spring rebounded to bring the ball over half-court for a timeout.
Gruse didn’t like what the Viking defense presented and called a second. After the second, Cooper followed with his heroics.
Cave Spring 6ft7 Dylan Saunders had a game-high 22 points for the Knights, including 8-of-10 from the free throw line. Dawyot and Stark Jones followed Cooper’s 9 with 8 points each. Kam Tinsley added 5, with Skylor Griffiths and Lilley chipping in 4 and 2 points, respectfully.
Northside was led by Journiette’s and Cole’s 14 points apiece. Mykell Harvey followed with 8, Logan with 7, while Webb netted 6. Freshman Cy Hardy and junior Jachan Anthony hit 5 and 2 points, respectfully for the Vikings.
Cave Spring (28-1) advances to play Petersburg at the VCU Siegel Center in Richmond on Thursday. Tipoff set for 8PM.
“This one was rough,” Northside head coach Bill Pope graciously said in the hallway outside the Viking locker room. “It will be tough getting over it for a while.”
In a game sidebar, the Cave Spring student section put a definitive validation on their role as the Knights’ sixth man. An expanded halftime candy bar toss, highlighted by Cave Spring assistant principal Chuck Parker being the celebrity guest tosser and a fan adding to the extravagant halftime booty. Definitely put the exclamation point on one of the sweetest games of the year for the Knights.