GREENVILLE — Riverheads head coach Chad Coffey wanted his team to have some fun in its regular-season finale. What better way to have fun against high-flying Stuarts Draft than to play the Cougars’ rollicking style.
And boy did the Gladiators some fun for three quarters … but then came the fourth.
The Cougars unleashed a 31-point final period on Riverheads, including bombing six 3-pointers, to rally from a nine-point deficit for an 84-77 victory in a freewheeling Shenandoah District boys basketball contest.
The teams combined to jack up 98 3-pointers, making 30, in a game where it was a 3-point barrage on steroids when the Gladiators joined the party.
The county clash had no postseason implications since the Cougars and Gladiators are both secure in their respective regional tournaments with high seeds.
Draft (14-8, 9-1) is a virtual lock for No. 3 in Region 2B and will host either Strasburg or fellow Shenandoah District rival Staunton in the first round. The Cougars dominated both regular-season meetings with the Storm.
Riverheads (11-8, 3-7), despite its recent lull where the Gladiators lost six of their last eight games, is the No. 1 seed in Region 1B and has home-court advantage throughout regional play. The Gladiators host No. 8 Franklin in the first round.
Both teams have plenty of time to prepare for their first-round regional matchups as they don’t start until Feb. 25.
The long layoff isn’t appealing to either team’s head coach.
“It is not ideal at all,” Draft’s Mike Gale said. “But we have no control over it. We will try to manage the situation the best we can.”
Coffey echoed his disdain, saying the regular season should have been extended.
“We should be finishing the regular season next Tuesday or Wednesday,” he said. “In our case where we are always a late start because of football, that gives us more days to space out our games instead of cramming them into a shorter window. And you also hope the team doesn’t lose its edge with all the down time.”
The Gladiators led 43-38 at halftime, and extended the margin to 56-44 with a 10-2 spurt, sparked by consecutive 3s from Adam Painter.
Zack Adams’ triple near the end of the quarter gave Riverheads a 62-53 advantage going to the final eight minutes.
But the Cougars came out firing and hitting in the fourth quarter. Aaron Nice, Mark Rodgers and Jo-’el Howard hit from distance during a 13-2 blitz to begin the period. Howard’s 3 gave Draft its first lead since 17-16 in the opening quarter, 66-64, with 5:20 remaining. Riverheads tied the game at 66, but never could regain the upper hand.
The Cougars hit three more from downtown, two by Ryan Riley, the last one giving his team a comfortable 79-71 lead with 1:20 left.
“It took longer than we wanted to wear them down a bit,” Gale said.
Gale wasn’t surprised to see Riverheads open up the floor.
“We anticipated that coming in,” he said. “That was a good win to get us into the right mindset for the postseason.”
Coffey didn’t think his team ran out of gas down the stretch, but a case of leaving everything it had on the court.
“You should see exhausted kids at the end of every game,” he said. “If you aren’t exhausted, then you aren’t playing hard enough. We couldn’t have played any harder than we did tonight.”
Although the Gladiators hit a few bumps the last couple weeks, Coffey isn’t concerned going into the playoffs.
“We are trending in the right direction,” he said. “We have lost to some quality opponents. We are getting better each week. Our late starts push us back in hitting our full stride. I think we are rounding into form right now.”
The Riverheads coach is thrilled at earning the region’s No. 1 seed.
“That was a huge goal for us coming into the season,” Coffey said. “But of course you have to go out and win, or it doesn’t mean anything.”
Rodgers paced five Cougars in double figures with 16 points. Howard added 15, followed by Dawson Jones’ 14, and Freddie Watkins and Riley 10 apiece.
The Painter brothers Grant and Adam combined for 53 of Riverheads’ 77 points. Grant had 28 with four 3s and Adam 25 with five 3s. Grant, playing his final regular-season home game, sits third on the school’s all-time scoring list.
Riverheads’ jayvees closed the season with a 67-56 victory. Noah Williams led the Gladiators with 22 points, while Levi Byer added 20, Bennett Dunlap 13 and Michael King 10. Devon Brydge topped the Cougars with 18.