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HILLSVILLE –– Carroll County doesn’t know a great deal about Staunton River, which is a normal circumstance for this time of year. The Cavaliers know Salem well enough, though, having topped the Spartans for the Region IV girls’ championship, and the Eagles can draw several comparisons to Salem.
Carroll County (22-4) faces Staunton River (16-9) bright and early Saturday morning at the Salem Civic Center, tipping off at 11 a.m. in the Group AA Division 4 girls’ quarterfinals.
Like Salem, the Eagles are led by a quick, penetrating guard who is headed for a Division I scholarship. Like the Spartans, Staunton River has good size and likes a matchup zone defense. And like Salem was, the Eagles are on a roll.
“They’re on a pretty good winning streak, other than the loss to Broadway in the regionals,” Cavalier coach Marc Motley said. “But Salem was on a pretty good winning streak when we played them, and Bassett was too. We’re on a pretty good winning streak ourselves. We need to keep ours going.”
Carroll County rides a string of 12 wins into the state tournament, having ended Salem’s 12-game streak and Bassett’s run of 10 straight. Staunton River has been on the upswing since the return of injured University of Delaware-bound Jodi Salyer, winning six of seven before a 64-46 loss to Broadway in the Region III finals. The Eagles’ win-loss record isn’t stellar, but Staunton River’s run to state includes recent wins over Heritage and Lord Botetourt, teams responsible for four of the Eagles’ regular season losses.
The Eagles have four starters between 5-foot-10 and 6-1 but aren’t extremely quick or deep, which may give Carroll a chance to wear down Staunton River’s legs.
“I would love to do that,” Motley said. “If we can get enough pressure on their point guard to where we can get into their bench, I think we’ll be okay.”
March is a fine time to be peaking, but nobody talks about peaking defensively. On that side of the ball, Carroll County has been the defensive version of hot as a match, holding Salem to nine first-half points in the region finals, blanking Bassett the final 5-plus minutes (including overtime) in the semifinals, and giving up more than 40 points just five times in its last 14 outings.
“The kids have really bought into understanding that we want to not let the best player on each team beat us,” Motley said. “The last few games the defense, as much as anything, has been not giving up offensive rebounds. I don’t think we’ve given up double figure offensive rebounds in a month and a half.”
Despite Saturday’s early tip-off, the Cavaliers will stay in Hillsville Friday night before taking an early breakfast at the school Saturday morning.
“The kids won’t sleep much whether it’s here or there,” Motley said. “They’ll be a little nervous, which is understandable, and I imagine Staunton River will be the same way. I could make sure they’re in their hotel rooms at a certain time but they’d talk all night long, so I think being at home in their own beds, they’ll get a little better rest.”