Every once in a while a game will come along that folks will be talking about for years to come. Last Saturday at Cave Spring was one of those games.
Two teams with aspirations of winning the state, both called Knights, met in a barn-burner at Cave Spring High School. When the smoke cleared, the host Cave Spring Knights had a 60-56 overtime win over the James River Knights before a packed house.
“That was a great game,” said River coach Mike Goad. “It was the epitome of what high school basketball is all about. It was a great crowd and the game was played the way it’s supposed to be played. We came out a little short on the scoreboard but it was a thrill to be involved in a game like that.”
River had beaten Cave Spring the first time around, but the River Ridge District hosts had some things in their favor last Saturday. They were at home, on a more familiar floor, and in the meantime James River lost their 6’5” center for the season. That was huge, since Cave Spring had a huge counterpart in 6’11” Vanderbilt bound Josh Henderson.
For a while it looked like this one would be a TKO for the home team. Cave Spring raced out to a 15-0 lead, working the ball in to Henderson and shooting threes with accuracy when the big guy was double-covered. It had all the earmarks of a revenge whuppin’ when Goad called his third timeout late in the first quarter.
“I told our kids, I’d never seen a game where a team didn’t score for the whole game,” said Goad. “Sooner or later, we were going to score.”
The JR Knights finally hit a bucket with just over three minutes left in the quarter and went on a 13-5 run that cut the lead to 20-13 after one period. Now the game was on.
For the next three periods, two well-coached teams went at each other tooth-and-nail. The visiting James River team played with virtually five players the entire game while Cave Spring coach Billy Hicks used a deep bench. For River, J.T. Sandidge saw some spot duty at guard and Patrick Pentacost made a cameo appearance to guard an inbounds play, but for the most part the starting five of Ethan Humphries, Andrew Tucker, Jordan Talbott and Bennett brothers Patrick and John were iron men.
“You’ve got to be in great shape both mentally and physically, because when you lose it physically you lose it mentally as well,” said Goad. “Believe it or not, we tend to wear teams down with those six.”
Cave Spring believes it, because the longer the game went the better James River played. With Humphies directing the team flawlessly out front, the smaller Knights attacked Henderson and company with fearless precision. They passed around him and shot over him, and never backed down when Henderson blocked a shot.
“It was a real physical game,” said Goad. “Henderson is the marquee player and you know they’re not going to foul him out. There could have been a lot more fouls called. There were some calls that weren’t made in key instances.”
River trailed by six heading into the final period, then put on a charge. The Knights finally tied the game at 55-55, the first time they were even since 0-0, and had a chance to win it in regulation. Humphries drove the lane and tried to dish the ball but the pass wasn’t completed in a melee underneath and the game went into overtime.
River took a brief 56-55 lead in overtime, their first lead of the night, but it was short-lived, and the last time they would score. Henderson scored on a three-point play with 1:15 on the clock to give Cave Spring a 58-56 lead, then Adam Hager sealed it with two free throws to send the fans home talking about what a great game it was.
“We had our opportunities,” said Goad. “We got to the fourth quarter and had our chances. When it was 15-0 it easily could have been a blowout, but our kids never backed down. We didn’t win the game but they gave a great effort. They showed a lot of heart out there.”
All five River scorers were in double-figures in a balanced attack. John Bennett led the Knights with 13, Tucker had 12, Talbott 11, and Humphries and Patrick Bennett had 10 points each. Henderson led Cave Spring with 21 points but only six after halftime.
Cave Spring improved to 13-2 with the win and River lost for just the second time. Both River losses were against talented Group AA teams, and both in overtime. The other loss was to Liberty, and the Knights are unbeaten against Group A schools.
On Monday, River needed a last second shot to beat Staunton River in Moneta, 54-52. Humphries had 15, Tucker had 14 and Patrick Bennett had 11 as River improved to 16-2 on the season.
Last week the Knights humbled three Pioneer District rivals by a combined score of 228-75. The Knights beat Craig County 74-21, Highland County 96-23, and Parry McCluer, who was expected to give them a game, 58-31.
The Knights returned the trip to Craig on Tuesday and on Thursday, Bath County is here. That’s “Senior Night,” and the school has invited past coaches to attend for a celebration. It’s also the last regular season home game and “Breast Cancer Awareness Night.” Goad and his staff will be in their regular black outfits but this time they’ll be wearing pink ties.