By dancing with the one that brought it there, Carroll County is going back to the Big Dance for the first time in 22 years. Down 54-49 with 4:30 left and looking out of sorts, the Cavaliers used its vaunted press to rally for a thrilling 59-57 win over Magna Vista in a Region IV Semifinal in Hillsville on Wednesday. With the victory, the Carroll boys earned just the fourth state tournament berth in school history and the first since 1991.
“We threw a press on them about three minutes into the fourth quarter. That has kind of been our bread and butter,” Carroll County head coach Brad Hawks said. “They started playing a little tight, we got a couple of steals and layups, and it got us back in it. It’s been our bread and butter all year late in the game. We didn’t play as well as we can, but they did that to us.”
Despite a 12-12 record coming into the game against the favored Cavaliers, it was apparent Magna Vista was going to be tough to deal with all night long. Even though Carroll County (23-2) made its first seven field goal attempts and shot 77 percent (10-of-13) from the floor in the first quarter, the Cavs only led by three points after eight minutes thanks to the torrid shooting of Corey Kellam, who drilled five 3-pointers in the first quarter and seven for the game.
After falling behind 3-2, the Cavaliers didn’t trail again in the first three quarters, but could never pull away from Magna Vista. Kellam’s 3-pointer to end the third quarter brought the Warriors to within two points at 49-47 and ignited a 10-0 run that put Magna Vista ahead 54-49.
And things looked bleak for Carroll County in the fourth quarter as it turned the ball over four times and went scoreless for nearly the first five minutes of the final period. The Warriors took advantage of the Cavaliers’ misfortune, turning three of the turnovers into layups at the other end to build the five-point lead. Even though Carroll looked tight and off its game, senior Austin Horton said the team knew what it had to do pull out the heart-stopping victory.
“I don’t think any of us were nervous. We have all been there before,” Horton said. “We just kept our composure and did what it took to win. It’s a great feeling to go to state, but we have more work ahead of us.”
Carroll’s press paid dividends down the stretch as Gunnar Beamer came up with a steal and layup to trim the deficit to 54-51 with 3:05 to play, ending a scoreless drought of over five minutes for the Cavs. Chris Smoot came up with another steal moments later off the press, and he assisted Cody Keith for a bucket in the paint to make it 54-53 with 2:24 to play.
Then things started to fall apart for Magna Vista. Following another turnover, Ryan Gravley was fouled and connected on a pair of free throws to give the Cavaliers a 55-54 advantage they wouldn’t relinquish with 1:42 remaining. Carroll’s defensive pressure continued to rattle the Warriors as Kellam was called for an over-and-back violation. Gravley again made Magna Vista pay, scoring inside for a 57-54 lead with a minute to play.
About 15 seconds later, Horton came up with a huge defensive stop, stepping in front of a Magna Vista player in the lane for a charge. Connor Lundy added two free throws with 37.4 seconds left to make it 59-54.
“The charge at the end was so great. Out of all the charges I have taken, that was the best-feeling one ever,” Horton said. “Like I tell my team, I’ll do whatever it takes to win, and that was a game changer.”
But the Cavaliers still weren’t out of the woods in this tumultuous affair. Kellam stepped up and knocked down his seventh three of the game with 24.9 seconds left to make it 59-57. Gravley was called for a double dribble with 18.6 seconds left, but Magna Vista’s last-second shot missed the mark, setting off a wild celebration in Hillsville.
“Connor Lundy stepped in there and made two big free throws at the end of the game and we got a couple of big rebounds. That is what it takes,” Hawks said. “My hat is off to Magna Vista. They are a bunch of classy kids. They play so hard and they really dictate how you play.”
Gunnar Beamer carried Carroll County in the first half, scoring 12 points in the first quarter and 16 of his team-high 18 in the first half. The junior point guard continually broke down Magna Vista defenders off the dribble and drove to the hole for basket after basket as the Cavs built a 34-26 lead late in the second quarter.
“In the first quarter Gunnar was able to get to the rim. He was finishing strong, he was playing inside, he was really, really poised with the ball. He made good moves and finished,” Hawks said. “He played very well I thought.”
But as hot as Beamer was in the first half, Kellam kept Magna Vista in it. After the Cavaliers went ahead 15-8, Kellam drilled back-to-back treys to cut it to 17-14. It seemed like every time the Warriors needed a big shot, Kellam was there to knock one down, as he finished with a game-high 24 points.
“Kellam shot lights out. He just went unconscious,” Hawks said. “We were playing him to be a driver and make him shoot jump shots. And then he came out and hit five threes in the first quarter and that kind of changed what we wanted to do a little bit.”
Gravley finished with 16 points for Carroll County, who will now move on to Friday’s Region IV Championship game against Salem in Hillsville at 7 p.m. The Cavaliers will then advance to the Group AA Tournament, which begins March 1.
“Teams seem to be shooting good us against us lately, but this time of the year we are going to get everybody’s best game,” Hawks said. “But to do something special and make it to the state tournament for the first time in 22 years, I feel great for these guys. I’m really happy for the guys to get to experience something like this. And to play for a regional championship for the first time in 22 years is something special.”
M. Vista 21….8..18..10 - 57
Carroll24..10..15..10 - 59
Magna Vista – Mabin 4 4-6 12, Kellam 8 1-2 24, Perkins 1 0-0 2, Ramey 1 1-2 3, Johnston 1 0-0 2, Hampton 1 0-0 3, J. Hairston 1 0-0 2, Hatfield 4 1-2 9. 3-pointers – Kellam 7, Hampton 1.
Carroll County – Gravley 5 5-8 16, Smoot 3 1-2 8, Beamer 7 3-5 18, Lundy 1 3-3 5, Keith 2 0-0 4, Reece 1 0-0 2, Horton 2 2-4 6. 3-pointers – Gravley 1, Smoot 1, Beamer 1.