BOTETOURT – Chad Conner has coached at both schools, so he knows a little bit about the Lord Botetourt-James River basketball rivalry. He’ll get his first taste of the rivalry as a head coach on Thursday when his Cavaliers play host to James River at the Lord Botetourt gym.
Conner, in fact, is a James River High School graduate, having graduated in 1996. In the years’ since he coached sports at both schools, but this is his first stint as a head varsity basketball coach. He was a little nervous prior to LB’s win over Glenvar last week.
“Oh yeah, my stomach was churning,” he said. “But the kids calmed me down, and once it tipped off it was just like riding a bike.”
The River-LB rivalry has taken on the rivalry of the hammer and the nail in recent years, as River has swept the series in the past two seasons. This year River is off to an 0-2 start and the Knights don’t come in as the heavy favorite as they have in recent years.
“We’ve swept them the last two years, but it’s just a matter of time, we’re not going to win every game forever,” said River coach Mike Goad. Ironically, River coach Goad is a Lord Botetourt graduate and LB coach Conner is a James River graduate.
“We won’t be intimidated by anyone,” said Goad. “As long as we improve and play aggressive, we’ll be okay when the tournament rolls around. Then it’s one and done.”
Both teams played Glenvar for their season openers. LB took a 52-46 win over the Highlanders at GHS last Thursday, as sophomore Justin Goode scored 19 points to lead the Cavs. Goode was 11-for-11 from the line and hit eight-of-eight in the decisive fourth quarter as the Cavaliers kept Glenvar at arm’s length.
“We had some good play from our young kids,” said Conner. “We’re definitely excited about the future.”
Zack Kelly had 11 points off the bench and Ross Wimmer had nine rebounds to lead the Cavs, who played without center Lucas Smith. Shawn Gardner played well filling in for Smith, who has been cleared to resume practice after sitting out with a knee injury.
River dropped their opener to Glenvar in Buchanan, 59-44, despite 21 points by John Bennett. However, the Knights were impressive last Friday despite falling to Group AA Cave Spring, 71-69 in overtime at Cave Spring. Bennett had 30 for the Knights in that game.
“(Cave Spring coach)Billy Hicks said he’s one of the best players he’s seen in the valley,” said Goad of Bennett. “He’s been with us four years and he’s played in the state tournament and he knows what’s expected. We’ve been fortunate to have had some good players, so he didn’t get the attention he might have gotten otherwise, but he can play.”
River led Cave Spring 30-27 at the half, then opened a 17 point lead after three quarters as they outscored the host Knights, 23-9, in the third period. However, Cave Spring rallied and caught River, then won in overtime.
“We had our chances,” said Goad. “Our foul shooting doomed us. We made just seven of 14 and they were able to stop the clock.”
J.T. Sandidge had a dozen points for River in the loss, as the Knights fell to 0-2.
“I’m not worried about wins right now,” said Goad. “I was pleased with the effort and the game experience will be beneficial. It’s something we can build on.”
This week River will play three more Group AA teams. The Knights hosted Alleghany on Tuesday, they’re at LB Thursday, and on Saturday night River is at Rockbridge.
“I think someone predicted us to be fifth in the Blue Ridge,” joked Goad.
Lord Botetourt was home to Hidden Valley on Tuesday, with the River game Thursday at home. Next Tuesday the Cavaliers will host Blacksburg, and River goes to Glenvar that night.