STATE PREVIEW – Galax begins defense of title

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The Tide opens state play against Castlewood, the last team to hand it a postseason defeat.

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

Two years ago, Castlewood eliminated Galax in the first round of the Group A Division 1 state tournament. The Maroon Tide hasn’t lost a postseason game since.

The reigning state champions will begin defense of their title at 7 p.m. tonight when the Tide takes on Region D runner-up Castlewood in the state quarterfinals at the Salem Civic Center.

“Castlewood is real sound,” said longtime Maroon Tide coach Verl Brown. “They’ve got two good shooting guards and one of the most sound post players we have faced to this point, other than Oak Hill’s boys. They press, they play man-to-man, they’re just solid.”

Part of the reason Galax (24-2) subjected itself to a 112-54 loss to No. 1-ranked Oak Hill was in anticipation of a postseason matchup with the Blue Devils (19-8) and big guys Brigham Jessee and Aaron Kennedy. 

“We were impressed with how they ran their sets,” said Brown, who got a chance to see Castlewood and Hurley in the Region D finals last week. “They don’t do anything to hurt themselves.”

And if recent history holds true, even of the Blue Devils do find themselves in a pickle, they’re pretty adept at overcoming it. Twin Springs held a six-point fourth-quarter lead over Castlewood in the region semifinals before the Devils clawed back into it, winning 47-46 on a last-second 3-pointer by Tyler Austin. 

That was followed by the region title game with Hurley in which Castlewood closed a third-quarter deficit of 19 points to just five before falling 58-51.

Galax has had to worry about no such heroics of late. Since a two-point win over Grayson County on Feb. 3 (and discounting the Oak Hill loss), Galax has had no outcome closer than 13 points, including region tournament wins by margins of 102-56 and 69-52.

“I think the last three or four games we’ve just gotten a hair better each time,” said Brown. “We’ve found a way to raise it up a notch, individually and as a team.”

That was evident in the region finals against Parry McCluer in which the Tide shot nearly 60 percent in the second half and committed just eight turnovers for the game.

While most of last year’s state title team is back for another shot, postseason hero Justin Hash is one conspicuous absentee. Natural wing players Austin Pack and Deion George have gotten the job done at point.

“The teams you see now have these point guards who have been playing three or four years,” said Brown. “It makes a difference. Our guys are doing a tremendous job but they all know how much Justin meant.”

One key to the Maroon Tide run has been balance. Four players average between 9.8 and 13.8 points per game and have gotten the scoring done in a variety of ways. Leading scorer Lawrence Parsons (13.8 ppg, 10.6 rpg) has developed a soft jumper to go with his power post game, and Devonte McKinney has been his perfect compliment, averaging 13.7 points (21.0 in two region tournament games) and taking up the slack from the common double-teaming of Parsons. Pack (12.7) has been on a tear from behind the 3-point line and George (9.8) can penetrate the all-too-familiar zone defenses.

“The attitude of this team has been super,” Brown said.