ST. PAUL - One of the secrets of top-ranked Castlewood's success on the basketball floor may have been inadvertently revealed at St. Paul on Tuesday night.
The power of denial.
"I didn't know we were number one," said Blue Devils point guard Patrick Fisher, who scored 26 points to go with eight rebounds and three assists in Castlewood's 65-53 Cumberland District win over the Deacons.
"I'm glad to hear that. It's a big honor. But I didn't know it."
In Tuesday's girls varsity opener, the Lady Deacons denied Castlewood's bid for an unbeaten run through the district. Lindsey Dickenson and Courtney Evans helped deliver a 49-44 victory that threw the district race into a three-way tie.
Castlewood boys coach Aaron Williams hinted that Fisher might not be completely oblivious to the statewide buzz his team is generating.
But Williams admitted that the Blue Devils' status as the top-ranked team in The Associated Press Group A poll has not been a subject of discussion.
"We never talk about it. We never mention it. And they never say, â€˜Hey, coach! We're ranked No. 1!' I haven't heard that once," said Williams, whose squad travels to Rye Cove on Friday.
"I think this team is pretty focused. This is the most focused team I've ever had. They're here to play every game."
The Blue Devils (15-1, 5-0) were definitely there to play, scoring on seven consecutive possessions in the first quarter as they roared to a 23-7 lead. That surge was sped along by two treys from Fisher and one by Travis Carter.
Chris Smith added 15 points for Castlewood, while Drew Justice had 11 points and seven rebounds. Post Brad McReynolds finished with seven points and seven boards.
Despite trailing 31-16 at the half, the Deacons (11-6, 3-3) put together a respectable enough second-half effort to threaten Castlewood a little at the end.
"We had a bad first quarter to start out and we just ended up just having to play hard the rest of the game to get back in it," said Deacons forward Brandon Phillips, who led St. Paul with 23 points. "I thought we had a chance at it when we started shooting better at the end."
Phillips trimmed Castlewood's lead to 56-46 on his 16-footer with 3:14 left to play. His 3-pointer with 2:35 remaining cut the margin to nine. He hit another trey at 1:25 to keep the Deacons within 10, but the spell was broken when his next open 3 attempt rimmed out at the minute mark.
The Blue Devils, who went 14-for-26 at the free throw line overall, were 3-for-4 in the final stretch, including a couple from Fisher.
Rebounding - a consistent strong suit for the Deacons - played a major role in the comeback. But Williams thought his squad didn't help itself enough in that area.
"At times we're a little bigger or more athletic and maybe we don't have to do it right. We need to do it right all the time," he said. "We need to make our free throws and we need to rebound. Those are a couple of things we can have a little control over."
The Lady Deacons (16-2, 4-1) got 15 points from Evans and 14 from Dickenson as they joined Castlewood and Rye Cove at the top of the heap.
"We've got a team of role players and everybody played their roles rather well tonight," said St. Paul coach Wayne Rasnick, who got nine points from Shaina Hall and a couple of key treys from Emily Salyer.
The Lady Blue Devils (11-5, 4-1) got 18 points from Lorren Evans and 14 from Kayla Gordon. The split with St. Paul wasn't necessarily a disaster, said coach Barry Ruff.
"If we win out, we can still control our destiny. We've still got to play Rye Cove twice," Ruff said. "If we take care of business, we should be OK."