By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy survived a tough test on Tuesday in the first round of the Virginia Association of Christian Athletes state basketball tournament, holding off a determined effort by Roanoke Valley Christian School for a 68-65 win.
"Our defense wore their legs out and after that their shots weren't falling," Patriots coach Ron Combs said. "That was the key to this game. We started playing that way on Nathan Perkinson from the very beginning of the game. We wanted him to have to work hard for everything he got."
What Perkinson got for his Eagles was impressive, but the Roanoke Valley forward wasn't able to sustain it during the critical fourth quarter. After his team trailed early to SVCA, Perkinson led a fierce Eagles' comeback that culminated in a perfect third quarter, nearly stealing the game from the Patriots in the process.
Perkinson, who finished the night with a game-high 25 points, led Roanoke Valley from a 32-24 deficit at the end of the first half to a 49-48 lead with just eight minutes to play. During the third quarter, he scored 14 points, including three 3-pointers.
The rest of Eagles were just as perfect, hitting all eight of their field-goal attempts and going 5-of-5 from the free-throw line.
With the Eagles holding the momentum heading into the fourth quarter, Combs changed his defense, returning the momentum back in the direction of the host Patriots.
"They switched to a box-and-one on defense, and that made it very difficult for Perkinson to get open for a good shot in the fourth quarter," Eagles coach Alen Naff said.
After hitting all of its field goals and free throws in the third quarter, Roanoke Valley was only able to connect on four of its 18 field-goal attempts in the final period.
The Eagles' inability to sustain their torrid third-quarter shooting gave the Patriots the opportunity they needed to retake the lead and hold it. Jake Tolley hit two straight 3-pointers early in the final period to give the Patriots the lead again, and SVCA never looked back.
The Patriots began the contest as though they were going to blow the Eagles out of the gym. Starting with a 6-0 run, SVCA eventually led 12-3 before Roanoke Valley was able to hit a field goal.
"They began the game with a great deal of intensity," Naff said. "We just weren't able to match that intensity early on, and I thought that was what beat us. It just took too much energy to get back into the game."
Roanoke Valley did manage to narrow SVCA's lead to 16-11 by the end of the period, but the Patriots, led by Nathan Steve, were relentless. Steve, who didn't start the game, came off the bench early and scored 12 first-half points for SVCA.
"He came in and really played well," Combs said. "He doesn't start, but during the last couple of practices he really showed up and let me know that he wanted to play."
Steve led the Patriots for the night with 20 points. Ethan McGann also scored in double figures for SVCA with 16 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Tolley, whose two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter played a decisive role in the outcome of the game, finished the night with 11 points.
Besides Perkinson, Jared Hundley had a good night for the Eagles offensively, scoring 20 points and hitting three 3-pointers.
"We've had a good season, and we've overcome several injuries," Naff said. "No one expected us to make this tournament at the beginning of the season. We did, and we drove all the way up here and gave a great team like Shenandoah Valley a run for their money. I told our kids that they've got nothing to hang their heads about."
SVCA moves on to face top-seeded Timberlake Christian in the VACA state semifinals on Friday in Forest. Game time is still undetermined.