The William Byrd basketball team escaped the frying pan unscorched last week, and now they head into the fire.
Byrd beat Cave Spring and Pulaski County in back-to-back close games last week to improve to 4-2 on the season, but Friday they’ll get an even bigger test against Northside. The Vikings have been rolling over the competition and are undefeated after six games. They beat Cave Spring by 32 points on Tuesday, 76-44, and last week they beat Salem by 60, 89-29.
“Obviously they’re really good,” said Byrd coach Josh Cunningham. “They’re talented and they have a lot of chemistry, but our guys are confident we can play with them.”
The Terriers had two nice wins themselves last week. After being weathered out on Wednesday the Terriers were at Cave Spring Thursday for a non-district, intra-Roanoke County game. Byrd jumped off to an early lead and was up 24-10 at the end of the first quarter.
“That was a good response after the Hidden Valley game,” said Cunningham, referring to a loss to the Titans on Tuesday of last week. “I didn’t mind that Wednesday’s game was postponed because we got in a good day of practice.”
Byrd was up by 13 points at 49-36 after three quarters, but the Knights made a run in the fourth. Poor foul shooting by the Terriers helped the Knights comeback, but the Terriers hung on when Cave Spring was called for an illegal screen in the closing seconds with Byrd holding a three point lead.
“I not all that concerned about our foul shooting,” said Cunningham. “It was just one of those nights. It’s been a strength.”
Jaylen Wheeler led the team with 19 points and seven assists. Terrell Smith had 16 points, JJ Seymore had a dozen and Casey Smith had eight. Byrd hit seven three pointers, including three by Terrell Smith and two by Casey Smith.
A night later the Terriers were back on the court for a game against previously unbeaten Pulaski County, a Class 4 team and fellow member of Region D with the Terriers. Byrd got some late game heroics and held on for a 51-50 win in Vinton.
“That was a big win for us,” said Cunningham, who was a college teammate of Pulaski coach Andrew Hart at Emory & Henry. “We could possibly play them again in the regional, and I expect we’ll see them quite a bit in the coming years.”
This one was tight all the way, with neither team leading by more than seven throughout the game. Byrd was hanging on to a one point lead but Pulaski had a chance to win with possession in the final seconds of the game. However, the Terriers forced a loose ball and Thomas Adams dove on the ball. He alertly flipped it to Wheeler, who passed the ball down the floor to Logan Poff before the Cougars had a chance to foul.
“That was a good win,” said Cunningham. “Thomas made a great play, and he’s going to make plays like that.”
Wheeler had 16 points and seven assists to lead Byrd while Terrell Smith had a dozen and Seymore had 10.
Next is Northside at home on Friday, and next week the Terriers will be on the Vikings’ home floor for the three-day Northside Invitational Tournament, beginning Wednesday, December 27. Byrd will meet Blacksburg, another Class 4, Region D team, at 7:45 pm to open. Other first round games find Giles against North Cross at 2:30 pm, Chatham against Franklin County at 4:15 pm and Christiansburg against host Northside at 6 pm. Semifinals are the 28th with the championship game on the 29th, and a consolation bracket will determine third, fifth and seventh places as all teams are guaranteed three games.
Cunningham played in this tournament as a student at Byrd, and he coached in it last year when he was at Roanoke Catholic. In fact, he coached against Byrd.
“It’s a great tournament,” he said. “There’s always quality teams and it’s a good chance to play some games instead of having a long layoff.”