By JERRY SCOTT
The Bland County Messenger
GALAX, Va. —
For the second straight night, Bland County had for fight for its life but in the end came out the victor Saturday as the Bears won the program’s first ever Region C championship with a 58-49 win over Parry McCluer’s Fighting Blues.
The win also labels the Bears as the last Region C champion as the VHSL goes to a new postseason format next season that will eliminate the state being broken into four regions.
After coming all the way back from a 19-point deficit to eliminate Auburn the previous night, the Bears found themselves down as many as 16 in this one before staging another miraculous rally.
A long string of 3-pointers closing out the third period and opening the fourth quickly erased a 36-23 lead the Fighting Blues had built by the 2:43 mark of the third stanza.
The Bears suffered with their shooting the entire first half and most of the third quarter before finally coming alive. Parry McCluer had two 10-point leads in the first two stanzas and maintained a nine-point cushion at intermission.
Asher Dillow, the leading scorer in the MED this season, was truly off with his shooting touch, finishing with just eight points, none during the first two periods. Teammates, however, came to his rescue, especially in the second half. Chase Hankins and Darryl Clark both fired in 23 points for the Bears. Hankins hit 11-of-14 free throws for the second night in a row and Clark fully atoned for his miserable five-point game in the win over Auburn, bouncing back beautifully by arcing in four treys and missing just once from the stripe.
Coupled with those two scoring outbursts, the Bears (14-10) also got a huge lift off the bench from Jonah Miller.
His play, especially throughout the third and fourth quarters helped contain the efforts of the Parry McCluer big men, who combined for just nine points in the second half. Miller’s play also drew the praise of coach Rich Hankins.
“Without question,” Hankins said. “He provided us big defensive contributions. There has been several times this season that he has come in and provided big plays for us. Tonight was another one of those times. Things he did tonight don’t show up in any box score.”
The Bears fell behind during the first period 8-2 in the opening five minutes and still trailed 12-4 by the end of the stanza as Charlie Fitzgerald and Josh Perry, who each scored 10 points for the Fighting Blues, had a pair of buckets apiece.
The first of Clark’s four treys cut the Bland County deficit to 12-7 and he later added a runner from the wing that kept the Bears within reach at 14-9.
Ryheem Dawson’s glider along the baseline coupled with Parry McCluer’s only trey, that by Sam Armstrong, pushed the lead to double figures with 5:31 remaining in the first half. Two free throws from Chase Hankins followed by John Miller’s putback of a Clark miss trimmed the lead to 19-13.
After again seeing the lead reach 10 points, the Bears’ Clark nailed his second trey at 2:20 to draw the Bears to 23-16 before Parry McCluer went into halftime up 25-16 on Christian Camden’s stickback 18 seconds later. Things began looking a little bleak for the Bears early on in the third period as the Fighting Blues went ahead 29-18 two minutes into the stanza. A trey from Clark made it 29-21 at 5:23 but things really started unraveling for the Bears over the next three minutes.
A charging foul on Hankins, a couple of turnovers, and fouls on Dillow and John Miller, his third, and the Bears found themselves down 36-23 following Dawson’s 3-point play with 2:43 left. Bland County called timeout.
A fire lit, what followed was truly amazing. Hankins buried back-to-back threes in a span of 46 seconds and Dillow canned another with seven seconds left as the Bears closed to within 36-32 by the time the horn sounded.
Clark then opened the fourth quarter with the Bears’ fourth straight three before an Armstrong free throw kept the Fighting Blues up 37-35 with 6:49 to play.
“I knew I had to play better than I did against Auburn,” Clark said. “I rushed a lot of shots but tonight looked for better shots and tried to play the same defense as I did last night.”
Dillow, spotted Clark all alone on the weak side baseline that knotted the game 37-37 and then drilled a three with six minutes left as the Bears took their first lead of the game, a lead that would not be surrendered.
Hankins penetrated the paint for a hoop and then added two foul shots as the lead jumped to 44-37 with 4:12 left. Perry scored on a mismatch with Dillow down low before the Bears’ Hankins and Parry McCluer’s Camden traded hoops as the Bears clung to a 46-41 edge with 2:38 left.
With their backs to the wall, the Fighting Blues then began fouling and the Bears more than answered the challenge. Hankins and Clark combined to hit 12 of 16 free throws during the final 2:19 as the Bears again escaped with a pulsating win.
Not only did Hankins and Clark combine to hit 16 of 20 free throws for the game, they were equally effective from the floor, teaming to go 12 of 22 with six treys. As a team, the Bears were 17 of 38 from the field with eight trifectas.
“My shooting was dreadful in the first half and not much better in the second half,” Dillow noted. “My teammates came through and we got it done again.”
John Miller and Clark each secured five rebounds for the winners. Dillow was credited with four steals and Hankins blocked two shots.
The game was pretty much a carbon copy as the one from the night before. Coach Hankins doesn’t hope to see that very often. “It was a lot like last night,” the veteran coach stated. “The momentum started going in our favor and we saw them [Parry McCluer] getting a little shaky. We went after it and attacked them. Quite frankly, they just refused to lose.”
No one attacked more that Jonah Miller. The Bears backup played with a fiery passion, play that was very much as big a key to the win as anything else.
“I just tried to go out there and play my hardest, do my best,” Miller said, obviously uncomfortable being interviewed postgame. “I tried to keep my composure, hold my temper, something I’m really working on, doing all I could to help us win.”
For Parry McCluer, Armstrong finished with 16 points. Fitzgerald and Perry added 10 for the Fighting Blues, who will take a 20-6 record into next weekend’s Group A, Division 1 quarterfinal game against Region D champion Castlewood.
The Bears will tangle Region D runner-up John I. Burton.
At Galax High School
BLAND COUNTY (14-10)
Dillow 3-11 0-0 8, Hankins 5-11 11-14 23, Joh. Miller 2-3 0-0 4, Goins 0-2 0-0 0, Clark 7-11 5-6 23, Jon. Miller 0-0 0-0 0, White 0-0 0-0 0, Faulkner 0-0 0-0 0, Pauley 0-0 0-0 0, Lambert 0-0 0-0 0, French 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-38 16-20 58.
PARRY McCLUER (20-6)
CaPuto 0 0-0 0, Fitzgerald 3 4-4 10, Camden 3 0-0 6, Armstrong 5 5-6 16, Perry 5 0-0 10, Henderson 0 0-0 0, Dawson 2 1-3 5, Fox 1 0-0 2. Totals 19 10-13 49.
Bland County...........................4 12 16 26 -- 58
Parry McCluer........................12 13 11 13 -- 49
Three-point goals: Dillow 2, Hankins 2, Clark 4. BC 3-point shooting: Dillow 2-8, Clark 4-6, Hankins 2-3. BC rebounds: 21 (Joh. Miller, Clark 5). BC assists: 3 (Dillow 2). BC steals: 13 (Dillow 4). BC blocked shots: 4 (Hankins 2). Total fouls: BC 15, PM 16. Fouled out: none.