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UPDATE: Galax will play its Group 1A state semifinal game Friday at 6 p.m. at the Salem Civic Center against 1A East champion Altavista. The winner of that game will play the winner between Radford and Surry for the state championship next Saturday (March 15) at 2 p.m. at VCU.
BRISTOL –– They’re baaaaack.
Missing the state tournament last year after winning back-to-back Group A Division 1 state championships in 2011-12, Galax earned its way into a condensed version of the states Friday, roaring back from a sputtering start and holding off Eastside 50-46 in the Region 1A West semifinals at Virginia High.
Galax (19-4) met Radford (24-2) in Saturday’s region title game, and both will be moving on to this week’s Group 1A final four. Radford dispatched Honaker 75-44 in the first semifinal Friday.
The Galax-Radford winner will play its state semifinal at the Salem Civic Center at a time and date to be determined against either Altavista or Surry County, who played Saturday for the 1A East title. According to the VHSL Web site, should Altavista be the East champion, Radford and Galax will both play in Salem. Should Surry take the East title, it will host the Galax-Radford loser at Old Dominion University.
After a 19-19 halftime deadlock, Caleb Pack gave Galax the lead for good by scoring twice off of offensive rebounds to open the third quarter. Cliff Conley, who came off the bench to firebomb the Spartans with seven 3-pointers and 24 points, knocked down a trio of treys in the final 3:50 of the third period for a 33-27 lead entering the fourth.
Conley is the Maroon Tide’s leading scorer but does so in a reserve role these days after missing several games with an eye infection. The pure-shooting Floyd County transfer got back into action by coming off the bench, and Galax coach Verl Brown saw no reason to fiddle around with a rotation that has been producing wins.
“When we bring Conley, [Steven] Peoples and Darian Brown in off the bench, we don’t weaken ourselves,” he said. “We’ve got three more strong players. We don’t feel like we have a drop-off. If anything, we get stronger.”
Galax seemed poised to run away with it when consecutive Conley 3-pointers had the Maroon Tide leading 41-27 early in the fourth, but Eastside (18-7) wasn’t quite through. The Spartans made it a two-possession game with a 14-5 run, closing to 46-40 when Ryan Milgrim put back his own miss with 1:02 to play. After an Eastside steal on the ensuing inbounds was nullified by a foul, Conley and Caleb Bartlett hit four straight free throws to widen the gap back to 50-40. The Spartans made one last charge to pull to within the final four-point margin before running out of clock.
The contest was nearly five minutes old before Galax connected on its first field goal. Eastside opened with a three-point play by Matt Green and scored the game’s first eight points, but the first of Conley’s seven 3-pointers sparked the Maroon Tide, which scored the final 12 points of the period and led 13-9 on Darian Brown’s driving bucket.
“This is tournament basketball so we knew they were going to come out hot, we just didn’t show up the first couple of minutes,” said Galax guard Chandler Quesenberry. “But then we got hot, then they did, just back and forth all night.”
Galax pulled out to a 17-10 lead at 4:43 of the second on a Peoples slash to the basket, but Eastside, which was led by 14 points each from Milgrim and Green, regrouped and finished the half on a 9-2 run to end the first 16 minutes with the teams knotted at 19.
So Galax moves on to states. The experience isn’t an entirely new one to most of the Tide players, several of whom cheered their older brothers to consecutive titles not too long ago.
“We were all there watching them do it,” said Quesenberry, whose brother Trevor was on the state championship teams and who was brought up from the JVs for the second title. “They set the path for us, we’re just trying to follow it.”
Galax..........13 6 14 17––50
Eastside........9 10 8 19––46
Merdian 0 0-0 0, Quesenberry 0 2-4 2, Pack 4 0-0 8, Garvey 0 0-1 0, DiGiacomo 1 0-0 2, Bartlett 0 2-2 2, Conley 7 3-4 24, D.Brown 3 1-4 7, Peoples 2 1-2 5. Totals 17 9-17 50.
Yates 0 2-2 2, Milgrim 4 5-6 14, Cusano 1 3-6 5, Yeary 2 0-0 4, Green 6 1-1 14, Buchanan 1 1-2 3, Counts 1 2-2 4. Totals 15 14-19 46.
Three-point field goals – Galax 7 (Conley 7), Eastside 2 (Milgrim, Green). Team fouls – Galax 18, Eastside 16. Fouled out – Buchanan. Technical fouls – none.