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SALEM –– With two reigning state champions in the Group 1A final four, it may have seemed a foregone conclusion that Radford and Altavista would square off in the championship game next week in Richmond, the only question being in filling in the details of how each would get there. But attention to detail this year got Galax 19 wins, and it gave the Maroon Tide a chance down the stretch at pulling off a mighty upset.
Galax rallied from an 11-point first-quarter deficit and into the lead just after halftime, and the Maroon Tide was within three points with just 4:20 remaining before Altavista pulled away for a 54-41 win in Friday’s semifinal at the Salem Civic Center. The Colonels (21-3), who won the final Division 1 state title last year with a sophomore-laden squad, will face either Surry County or defending Division 2 state champ Radford this Saturday in Richmond for the inaugural 1A state title. Galax (19-6) progressed light years from last year’s 6-16 campaign in which it failed to advance past the district level, to within four minutes of playing for a third state title in four years.
“I’m proud of the seniors, for their leadership and how they led us back after last year,” Maroon Tide coach Verl Brown said. “They just fought, fought, fought. I think they represented well. Nobody wants to lose but if you have to, I want to do it with class, and I think the kids showed class.”
Having already dug itself out of a double-digit hole in the first half, the Maroon Tide trailed 40-31 early in the fourth period before two Dominic DiGiacomo slashes to the basket capped a 6-0 run and whittled Altavista’s lead to 40-37 with 4:20 to play. But the Colonels would score the game’s next nine points, seven at the foul line, to lead 49-37 with a little more than a minute to play. Galax had a turnover and four errant 3-point attempts during the fateful dry spell while Altavista hit 12-of-15 foul shots in the fourth period, 6-of-7 by Juan Thornhill, who scored 17 points for the Colonels.
“That was the difference in the ballgame,” Brown said. “If it was three, five or seven points, we felt like we had a chance, but it got to double figures, I knew we’d have a hard time.”
Or perhaps just not enough time. Altavista built a 20-9 lead midway through the second period but saw Galax catch fire and square the ballgame soon thereafter, starting with a four-point play by Clif Conley. The junior transfer scored 13 points in the final four minutes of the half, knocking down four 3-pointers, including 21-footer that brought the Maroon Tide even at 22-all.
“I just started looking for my shot,” Conley said. “I just tried to make some plays.”
“We ran our secondary break, we ran some double-pick, we ran our 40 series, run him up the middle or off the wing, just a couple of things we ran to get him open,” Brown said. “He was hitting but they started putting the clamps on him.”
Conley would go on to score eight second-half points and finished with a game-high 21 points but was done hitting 3s for the night.
“I thought we came prepared, it just wasn’t our night,” said Conley. “We fought back into it but just didn’t get the win. That’s how it goes sometimes.”
Galax was tied at 29 thanks to a Chandler Quesenberry 3-pointer at 2:58 of the third, but Walker Allen gave the Colonels the lead for good with a trey from the right corner that did at least four laps around the rim, pausing for a momentary spin on the front iron before falling through at the 2:30 mark. Galax used a 2-3 zone for the first time in what Brown estimated to be 15 years, and Altavista countered by hitting 3-pointers with regularity, five of them in the first three quarters, something Galax didn’t expect to see happen.
“[A 2-3 is] something I don’t like to play, but we didn’t have the big guys to man-up with them inside,” said Brown. “My scouting report, they hadn’t hit hardly any 3s. And tonight they knocked it down.”
Meche Maulbeck added 13 points for the Colonels.
Galax.............7 15 9 10––41
Altavista......14 10 14 16––54
K.Brown 0 0-0 0, Conley 7 3-3 21, Merdian 0 0-0 0, Quesenberry 2 0-1 6, Pack 4 0-0 8, Garvey 0 2-2 2, Bartlett 0 0-0 0, D.Brown 0 0-0 0, Peoples 0 0-0 0, Matthews 0 0-0 0, DiGiacomo 2 0-0 4. Totals 15 5-6 41.
Maulbeck 4 3-5 13, Thornhill 6 5-6 17, De.Johnson 2 3-4 7, Da.Johnson 3 2-2 8, Hubbard 2 0-0 6, Jones 0 0-0 0, Allen 1 0-0 3, Dews 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 13-17 54.
Three-point field goals – Galax 6-15 (Conley 4, Quesenberry 2), Altavista 5-12 (Maulbeck 2, Hubbard 2, Allen). Rebounds – Galax 24 (Quesenberry 6), Altavista 18 (Thornhill 9). Assists – Galax 11 (K.Brown 4), Altavista 7 (Thornhill 5). Team fouls – Galax 21, Altavista 13. Fouled out – Pack, De.Johnson. Technical fouls – none.