State Trip Cut Short

State Trip Cut Short

ABOVE LEFT, PM sophomore forward Spencer Hamilton throws down a dunk during the first half. Hamilton led PM with 20 points and 14 rebounds. AT TOP RIGHT, Fighting Blue junior guard Talen Roberts takes a shot over Grundy’s Logan Thacker (32). Roberts scored eight points. ABOVE RIGHT, Dribbling down the court is PM sophomore guard Ryan Perry while a Grundy player defends him. (Stephanie Mikels Blevins photos)

State Trip Cut Short
State Trip Cut Short
State Trip Cut Short
State Trip Cut Short
State Trip Cut Short
State Trip Cut Short

THE BLUES’ fans show their spirit at the quarterfinal game, with many of the PM students painting their torsos blue and white. Among those were Omar Massenberg (top left), doing a split in the center of the court, and several younger fans (near left) joined in the festivities as well to fire up the Blues and entertain the large crowd. (Stephanie Mikels Blevins photos)

Blues Fall to Grundy, 49-46, In Quarterfinals

Grundy built up a big fourth-quarter lead and then held off a late rally from Parry McCluer High School, claiming a 49-46 victory in the quarterfinals of the Class 1 state boys basketball tournament at Rockbridge County High School on Friday night.

Cade Looney totaled 20 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Golden Wave (23-3) to the victory in the crowded gym. Spencer Hamilton posted 20 points and 14 boards for the Region 1C champion Fighting Blues (20-7).

Grundy, the runner-up from Region 1D, led 46-38 with just over a minute to play. Helped along by a number of missed free throws — the Golden Wave hit just 6-of-14 attempts at the foul line in the final two minutes — PM battled back, getting 3-pointers from Hamilton and Justin Wade to cut the margin to 47-44 with 33 seconds left.

Looney missed two charity tosses with 26.4 seconds remaining, but the Blues couldn’t create a good shot at the other end. Given another chance with 11.2 seconds to play, Looney sank a pair of foul shots to effectively seal the win.

“When we got it to that one-possession [margin at 47-44], I didn’t have a timeout left,” PM head coach Mike Cartolaro said. “I wanted to run the set that we had for a possible three, and we just panicked. The moment was big. We climbed back in it, but we just didn’t get where we needed to be.”

The loss cut short the Blues’ first trip to the state tournament in seven seasons. Meanwhile, Grundy advanced to the semifinal round in its first state playoff appearance since 1999 — and just the third in school history. The Golden Wave were slated to face Auburn, the team the Blues beat the Region 1C finals, last night.

“Shoot, man, it’s huge,” Grundy head coach Brian Looney said of the quarterfinal victory. “It’s just indescribable.”

Will Dunlap notched nine points and five rebounds for the Blues. But PM’s leading scorer was plagued by foul trouble throughout the night, picking up his fourth personal in the opening minute of the second half and then fouling out with 5:23 to play. Talen Roberts added eight points for PM.

Jake McCoy recorded 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists for the Golden Wave. Oscar Oygard tallied eight points, and Corey Keene chipped in seven markers.

The game was tightly contested for most of the night, with the lead changing hands seven times through the first three periods. PM took an early 10-5 advantage, getting five straight points from Roberts and a three-point play from Dunlap, but the Golden Wave answered with an 8-1 stretch that put them up 13-11 at the halfway mark of the second period.

Cade Looney was a difference-maker throughout the night for Grundy. The 6-foot-8 junior, who already owns the program’s career scoring record, used a combination of power and athleticism to rack up several baskets down low, and he also blocked three PM shots.

“Cade played a great game all the way around,” Coach Looney said. “I can’t say enough about him: he helps us rebounding, the inside presence. He just does a great job.”

Grundy led 19-17 at the break, only to see the Blues open the third period with seven straight points to assume a 24-19 advantage with 6:32 to go. The Golden Wave countered with six unanswered markers, taking a 25-24 edge on a driving layup from Oygard.

After Ryan Perry’s runner put PM ahead 26-25 midway through the quarter, Grundy went in front for good on a basket from Looney at the 2:48 mark. The Golden Wave would extend the margin to 36-29 just over three minutes into the final frame.

Dunlap was a spectator for most of that stretch. The junior wing was charged with his fourth foul 45 seconds into the third period and immediately headed to the bench. He would return with 6:46 left in the game, only to pick up his fifth foul just over a minute later.

“I’ve never been in a game that a player had fouls like he did, and played [only] three minutes in the second half,” Cartolaro said. “I’ve never coached a game in 30-some-odd years, especially in the playoffs, [where] a player of his caliber did not get an opportunity to play.”

Yet the Blues wouldn’t go away, thanks in large part to Hamilton’s heroics. The gifted 6-foot-9 sophomore scored seven straight PM points in the fourth quarter, and his 3-pointer cut the deficit to 38-36 with 3:35 remaining.

Hamilton knew that he had to step up in Dunlap’s absence. “I knew with Will out of the game. ... I had to take over and try to get the W,” Hamilton said.

After the Blues pulled within two, Grundy answered with an 8-2 stretch, going ahead 46-38 on an Oygard free throw with 1:14 left. The late treys from Hamilton and Wade gave the Blues a chance in the final minute, but a semifinal appearance wasn’t in the cards for PM.

The Blues’ 2019-20 campaign did, however, feature 20 wins, a regular-season Pioneer District title, and the program’s first regional championship since 1995. All of this came from a roster filled with underclassmen. The Blues will graduate just two seniors, Treveion St. Clair-Helm and Baris Esmeroglu.

“Great run. I don’t think anybody expected us to get this far,” said Cartolaro, who believes that his team will benefit from competing in the state tournament. “Hopefully, it’s going to make them hungry — understand how physical it is when you get to this level, and spend a little more time in the weight room.

“Disappointing night, but I couldn’t be any prouder of the year,” he added.

By claiming the Region 1C crown and coming within striking distance of the state semifinals, the Blues have shown their potential. And a close-run loss in the state tournament should provide plenty of inspiration for the offseason.

“I think this is just going to make us work harder, and motivate us more than ever,” Hamilton said. “Next year, we’ll be back right here.”

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