Not many gave Damron’s words much credence. But Tuesday night, the Spartans proved the doubters wrong.
Jumping ahead early and staying out front the rest of the way, Eastside defeated John I. Burton 69-54 to win their VHSL Class 1 boys basketball semifinal at the Virginia-Wise Prior Center.
View the photo gallery from the game
Eastside — which lost the state championship game to Lancaster last season — gets another shot at a title Saturday at VCU’s Siegel Center when the Spartans (26-4) take on Surry County at 1 p.m.
A DIFFERENT LOOK
This year’s Eastside team had a totally different look from last year’s squad, which featured six seniors with four senior starters. Only junior Ethan Powers returned as a starter from last year’s state runners-up.
“We lost four starters. We had six seniors and all six of them played. Nick (Livingston) and Ethan played a lot of minutes and they’re going to carry us on Saturday,” Damron said.
The rest of this year’s starters contributed in spots last season but did not see a lot of playing time.
For Powers, getting another shot a state championship is a dream come true.
“I don’t really think anybody thought we would be back,” he said. “But I feel like after we got together as a team, all the pieces we have sort of went together.”
The state semifinal game between Eastside and Burton (22-8) was the sixth meeting this season for the Cumberland District foes. Four of the first five were closely contested, but Tuesday’s game got out of hand early.
Eastside closed out the opening quarter with a 10-0 run over the final 4:19 to build a 15-6 lead.
“I thought that did get Norton a little bit back on their heels,” Damron said.
His Spartans went ahead 20-10 on a basket from Garrett Whited with 4:50 left in the first half, and they led by double digits the rest of the way.
Up 32-18 at halftime, Eastside sealed the win by opening the second half with a 7-0 run for a 21-point lead just a minute into the third quarter.
“We needed what they got and we knew that,” Burton coach Aaron Williams said of Eastside’s second-half run. “We needed that 5-0, 7-0 punch to start the third quarter and we still thought if we can get that, that was critical. And then they got it. We were just always clawing.
“It’s sad for us today but when we look back at this team, we’ve had a great year.”
Livingston led a balanced attack with 16 points and eight rebounds for Eastside. Powers and J.R. Kilgore finished with 13 points each, and the Spartans got 11 points each from Chris Swann and Whited.
Burton senior Houston Thacker finished his high school basketball career with 27 points and 11 rebounds. Zac Campbell added 10 points.