By: Terry Harris | Email: Click Here
Posted: March 4, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.
SUSSEX – A last-second shot by Surry’s Monte Pope was enough to lift the Cougars to a hard-fought 41-39 victory over Augusta County’s Riverheads High School during the VHSL Class 1 State Quarterfinals Friday evening, sending the packed Sussex Central High School gymnasium into a frenzy as hopes of a state title remains intact for the team and entire community.
Even though the game was hosted in neighboring Sussex, it would’ve been hard to tell given the passionate support of the Surry community inside the gymnasium Friday with spectators being treated to a close matchup between the Cougars and the Gladiators out of northwestern Virginia as Riverheads worked to keep pace with Surry’s high-intensity offense, an offense that kept the Cougars out front for much of the game, albeit at a narrow margin.
As the final seconds ticked down in regulation, the Gladiators erased the Cougars’ lead and brought the score even, raising the tension inside the building as the prospect of overtime loomed. Moments later, a missed shot that could’ve lifted Surry to the lead led to a scramble for the ball that eventually provided another opportunity for the Cougars to punch their ticket to the state semifinals.
#1 Freshman starter Xavier Brown takes to the air.
With no timeouts remaining, Pope, Region 1A’s Player of the Year, showed why he was given the accolade as he took the inbound pass and, while his teammates executed a series of screens, Pope was able to find enough space to fire off one last shot in the waning seconds of the quarter – a shot that would drop into the basket and propel Surry to a 41-39 win over Riverheads and send the packed stands inside Sussex Central High School into an instant celebration.
As the crowd celebrated behind him, Surry High School boys’ basketball Coach James Pope, Jr. joined his team on the court, hand raised in victory as the student-athletes he has coached all season piled together as they all realized their push for the state championship isn’t over, a spontaneous and passionate demonstration of team spirit.
For Coach Pope, it was a special moment seeing his son take – and make – the game-winning shot to carry the Cougars to the state semifinals.
“We knew it would be a hard-fought game because of their experience,” Pope said of Riverheads. “That team is mostly made up of two-sports stars, as they’re used to being in championships in football as well.”
Talking about Monte and the last-second shot, Coach Pope detailed, “It’s ironic. He makes all these weird shots in practice and I’ll always hear the guys saying, ‘How does he make them?’ So when he caught the ball, a lot of the guys said when he turned around and threw it, they just knew it was going in because he does stuff like that all the time.”
“But it’s just unbelievable as a coach and definitely unbelievable as a father,” he added. “He got in foul trouble, so we had to sit him down, and he missed a couple of free throws that could have got us more of a cushion at the end, so I know he’s glad he got to redeem himself.”
Days earlier, the Cougars were recognized for their performances throughout this season as Pope was named Virginia High School League Region 1A Coach of the Year, with his student-athletes also receiving accolades.
Monte Pope was named VHSL Region 1A Co-Player of the Year along with Franklin’s Dreylin Ford. Pope and teammate Slade Zhamare were named First-Team All-Region 1A, while Brandon Drew and QuanDriel Palmer were named Second-Team All-Region 1A.
While the celebrations following Friday’s close win felt great for all involved, Coach Pope said the focus remains on their next opponent, Rappahannock High School and the Raiders from Richmond County, during the VHSL Class 1 State Semifinals Tuesday evening.
“I feel pretty good about it,” Coach Pope said. “I don’t think we played particularly well against them last week. I think we kind of overlooked them as a team because they lost to Colonial Beach three times. So I think some of us didn’t expect them to come on as strong, but I know now the boys are ready for the rematch.”
Victory is sweet! Coach Pope heads for the sidelines as the Cougars celebrate winning the State Quarterfinal 41-39
Surry County High School girls’ basketball Coach Chris Brown, whose son, freshman Xavier Brown, also plays first string for the Cougars, commented after the game that the Riverheads’ slowed-down style game caused the team to play “more of a grind-me-out, physical, half-court game as opposed the game of speed and athleticism – outrunning – trapping” that is more the team’s regular style.
“But it also proves they can play a half-court game if necessary,” Coach Brown added. “In VCU, the floor is longer, and high school players don’t play on it all year. That can catch up with you on the game. So it bodes well for them if they end up playing for the state title Saturday.”
What has been a constant for both Surry High School basketball teams as they advance through the state tournament has been the unyielding support from the community, something Pope said has been special to experience first-hand.
“The enthusiasm is wonderful,” the coach said. “It’s always been like that. I consider Surry my second home. It’s just wonderful how they support our youngsters here at all costs. No matter if we’re playing at home or we’re paying on the road, they follow our youngsters wherever they go. It’s awesome.”
“We are really proud of the hard work by the boys,” he added. “After last year, we took a week. We did a lot of hard work, camps, to get prepared for this year. It’s reaping its benefits. I especially want to get it done for the seniors to end their high school career with the state championship. We’ve got it within our grasp. We’ll take it one minute – one possession at a time.”
As of this report, Surry County Cougars is scheduled to play Rappahannock in the VHSL Class 1 State Semifinals Tuesday night in a rematch of the Region 1A championship game at 7:30 at Sussex Central High School. The winner of that matchup will go on to Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center to compete in the VHSL Class 1 State Finals at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 9.