You might say the Hidden Valley Titan basketball team faced a tall order Friday night in the Cave Spring High School gym.
With the tallest Titan checking in at 6ft-3, it was an uphill battle against a Cave Spring roster that included seven players at 6ft-3 or taller, including 6ft-8 Fairleigh-Dickenson D-1 commit Dylan Saunders. Add to that a special halftime ceremony retiring the jersey of 6ft-11 and two-time state player of the year, Josh Henderson, and the Titans probably felt they were shooting around sequoia trees.
“There were a lot of distractions, but our guys handled it well,” Cave Spring head coach Jacob Gruse pointed out. “It was a special night.”
The result was a convincing 75-52 win by the Knights in the first of two regular season matchups of the Southwest County rivalry. The teams meet again in the regular season finale scheduled for February 7 in the Hidden Valley gym.
Cave Spring came out of the gate strong and quickly ran out to an 18-8 lead after the first quarter. Although Hidden Valley held tough trying to slow the fast-tempo Knight offense, and being relegated to look for outside shot opportunities rather than attempt a trip into the paint, which was a virtual no-man’s-land against the Knights’ height, the Tians also faced a huge challenge against the swarming Cave Spring man-to-man defense that creates havoc, and was hitting on all cylinders once the opposition crossed midcourt
The Knights kicked it into high gear in the second quarter, forcing turnovers and getting its offense rolling on its way to outscoring the Titans 25-9, and heading to the halftime break up 43-17.
“We really got it going in the second quarter with our defense,” Gruse noted. “Our guys were locked in and the ball started rolling for us.”
Hidden Valley senior guard Tyus Johnson (in blue) hits a jumper late in the third quarter on his way to a game-high 19 points for the Titans.
The Knights stayed on the bench at halftime to be part of Henderson’s #40 jersey retirement ceremony and having their picture taken with one of the key members of the back-to-back Cave Spring state championship teams in 2009-10.
“I didn’t want our players to miss that occasion,” Gruse said. “Having our guys see a player like Josh getting his jersey retired was big time for us. Josh is a fine young man, so humble, high character, one of the good guys.”
The Knights kept rolling to start the third quarter, pushing their lead into the 30s before Hidden Valley sophomore Chris Harmon hit from behind-the-arc in the left corner to stop the bleeding. With both coaches going deep into their respective benches midway through the third, the emphasis was on playing time for the reserves. Cave Spring led 64-35 heading to the final 8 minutes.
“Great to play all the guys,” Gruse added. “Starters only played a couple minutes in the third and none in the fourth. Good for everyone to get game time and get film to see what they need to improve on.”
The fourth quarter had its share of rough edges by both teams before the final 75-52 margin.
It was balanced scoring from Cave Spring, with Saunders having a team-high 17 points. Senior Stark Jones followed closely with 15, while senior point guard Graham Lilley and junior guard Charlie Parker each canned 12 points for the Knights.
“Balanced scoring again, ” Gruse noted. “We had 20 assists and shared the ball. Dylan and Stark were great and I loved our defensive effort.”
Senior guard Tyus Johnson was the shining star for Hidden Valley on his way to scoring a game-high 19 points. Senior guard Gavin Iott and junior guard Bryson Bass each netted 8 points for the Titans.
In the junior-varsity preliminary, Cave Spring first year JV head coach Charlie Urgo got his first win in as many tries against Hidden Valley as the Knight JVs stormed back from a third quarter deficit to knock off the Titan JV squad.
– Bill Turner