CLINCHPORT - The Castlewood boys got out of Rye Cove with their No. 1 state ranking intact. Also, their unbeaten status in the Cumberland District.
The squad's collective sense of humility? Still healthy.
The Blue Devils (16-1, 6-0) answered the season's most convincing challenge to their supremacy in the league Friday night as they held off the War Eagles 68-65.
"I didn't think this would be easy. I didn't think we were just going to be able to walk through these teams," said Castlewood coach Aaron Williams, whose squad went into halftime tied 25-25 after Rye Cove's Adam Hood stroked a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from somewhere in the vicinity of High Knob.
Hood, who was shadowed by the capable likes of guards Patrick Fisher and Travis Carter, scored 24 points, grabbed eight rebounds and handed out 10 assists.
"With Hood, you have to help a little bit longer and he's a good enough passer that he's looking for the open man. I thought he played a great game," Williams said.
John Franklin got a yeomanlike 10 points and 10 boards for the Eagles (12-7, 4-2), while Anthony Million scored 15 points and had six rebounds. Brandon Tomlinson added a significant eight inside points.
"Let's hope this carries over," Hood said. "We're getting better. If we keep getting better, we're going to be the ones on the other side of the fence."
Million loomed large in the final 2Â½ minutes, scoring eight points - including a 3-pointer off Travis Shupe's kick-out that cut the Blue Devils' lead to 64-62 with 43.7 seconds left to play.
Rye Cove was still knocking at the door, 68-65, after Hood's clutch 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds showing. Pressing the backcourt, Million flung Carter to the floor while grappling for the ball. He was whistled for an intentional foul - his fifth - with 1.3 seconds showing.
Carter missed both of the free throws, but all Castlewood needed for victory was to execute the subsequent inbounds play. It did.
"It was just emotion ... the heat of the moment. (Million) was tore up about it. But I told him there was no one play out there that beat us," said Rye Cove coach Reagan Mullins.
"We had our chances. That's all you can ask for. I thought our preparations for this game mentally were about the best we've had in a long time."
Fisher finished with 15 points and four assists, while Brad McReynolds had 10 points. But the Blue Devils' big hero of the night was Drew Justice, who finished with 24 points and eight rebounds.
Justice contributed nine points to the 11-2 run that opened the third quarter and gave Castlewood some much-needed breathing room. He hit a pair of 3-pointers and went 12-for-12 at the free throw line, sinking four of the seven team free throws that kept the Devils afloat in the final minute of play.
Justice was impressed with Rye Cove's defensive effort.
"They were all over us, especially midway through the fourth quarter," he said. "They just play hard. And they make it tough for you to get the shot."
Friday's girls game was also a thriller. A pair of Shasta Edwards free throws with 59.3 seconds remaining lifted the Lady Eagles to a 49-48 win over Castlewood.
Edwards finished with 24 points for Rye Cove (14-4, 5-1) while grabbing six rebounds - not bad for a 5-foot-5 freshman. Christi Hood had eight points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals.
"Shasta uses her body as well as anybody I've seen. She does well, position-wise. And she's strong. Very strong," said Lady Eagles coach Jamie Carter, whose squad executed the halfcourt trap to compensate for an 0-for-5 showing at the free throw line in the final minute.
Lorren Evans had 18 points and 11 rebounds for Castlewood (11-6, 4-2) . Kayla Gordon had 13 points and 10 boards while Kelsey Addington had seven points and six assists.
"A lot of people are down on us right now, but I'm not down on us," said Castlewood coach Barry Ruff. "We're still in this thing."