ROCKSPRINGS, Ohio — You reap what you sow.
After a hit-and-miss regular season, the South Gallia boys basketball team harvested the fruit of its hard labor Wednesday night following a thrilling 72-70 overtime victory over Symmes Valley in a Division IV sectional final at Larry R. Morrison Gymnasium on the campus of Meigs High School.
The seventh-seeded Rebels (10-11) and second-seeded Vikings (14-8) battled through seven ties and 21 lead changes throughout the course of the contest, and neither team led by more than seven points at any point of the 36-minute affair.
SGHS, however, came up with all the right answers down the stretch, as the guests sank their final eight free throw attempts and made a pair of key defensive stops over the final five minutes — allowing the Red and Gold to secure their fifth sectional championship in program history.
The Rebels — who will be making their third trip to the Ohio University Convocation Center in the last four years — will face third-seeded Portsmouth Notre Dame in a district semifinal matchup at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 4, in Athens. PND held on to claim a 51-50 overtime decision Wednesday night against Portsmouth East at Valley High School.
The outcome allowed second-year SGHS coach Larry Howell to pick up his first sectional crown and improve his career mark to 3-1 alltime in postseason games. The win was also the first for Howell over his former mentor Donald Saunders, who left South Gallia as the program’s alltime wins leader after the 2012 campaign.
“First off, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Saunders and his teams. They do things the right way, and they did a lot of things right tonight,” Howell said. “It’s kind of hard to enjoy this in some ways because we are close friends and both teams played well enough to win tonight.
“Then again, we were fortunate to make a few more plays when we needed them — and that is what is so special about this victory. We never gave up and we always believed in one another. It’s nice to see — both for myself and for the kids — that hard work truly does pay off in the long run.”
There were six lead changes in the opening eight minutes alone, as the Rebels jumped out to an 11-6 edge with 2:38 left in the first quarter. Symmes Valley, however, answered with an 8-2 run over the final 1:43, giving the hosts a 14-13 edge after one period of play.
Both teams battled through six lead changes and three ties in the second canto, which ultimately resulted in a 22-21 Rebels run that tied the game at 35-all entering the intermission.
Symmes Valley made half of its 24 field goal attempts before the break, but the hosts had also committed 12 turnovers during that span — compared to five giveaways by the Rebels. SGHS, conversely, was 12-of-30 from the floor in the opening 16 minutes of play.
SVHS — which owned a 17-12 edge on the glass at halftime — also held the biggest lead of the first half after a Kurt Adams basket made it a 26-20 contest with 3:39 left in the second period.
Both teams battled through five lead changes and one tie in the third quarter, but the Rebels broke away from a 41-all contest with an 8-4 spurt over the final 4:35 — giving SGHS a 49-45 edge headed into the finale.
Brayden Greer capped a 7-4 run to start the fourth with a pair of free throws at the 5:19 mark, giving South Gallia the largest lead of the night at 56-49.
Kurt Adams and Ryan Gibson answered with consecutive trifectas, allowing the Viking to close to within a point at 56-55 with 4:29 left in regulation. Tyler Rowe followed with a free throw at the 3:47 mark, tying the game up at 56 apiece.
The Rebels retaliated with an 8-2 run, as Greer netted two freebies at the 1:38 mark for a South Gallia 64-58 advantage. Ryan Gibson followed with consecutive three-pointers over the next 25 seconds, which ultimately tied the contest at 64-all.
Symmes Valley had the final possession of regulation and dribbled the clock down to 12.9 seconds before calling a timeout. The ball was inbounded to Gibson, who eventually fired a three from the top of the key. The shot caromed out and into the arms of a SGHS player as the horn sounded — forcing overtime with the score deadlocked at 64.
The Vikings jumped out to a quick 67-64 edge a little over a minute into the extra session, but Greer answered with six consecutive points that allowed SGHS to turn a three-point deficit into a 70-67 lead with 34 seconds left.
Gibson answered with a trifecta to knot things up again at 70-all with 24 seconds remaining, but Greer netted two free throws on the ensuing possession — giving the Red and Gold a 72-70 cushion with 14.3 seconds left in overtime.
Landon Hutchinson stole the ball away from SVHS on the ensuing possession, but was whistled for travelling while trying to run out the final 10 seconds of the game. Symmes Valley had 2.5 seconds left and possession of the basketball underneath its own basket.
The ball was inbounded to Gibson in the right corner, who released a fade-away trifecta over the outstretched arms of two South Gallia defenders. The shot attempt went long and into the arms of South Gallia’s Ethan Swain, who held on to the rebound until the clock expired.
The Rebels connected on 20-of-52 shot attempts for 38 percent, including a 6-of-18 effort from three-point range for 33 percent. The guests also outrebounded the Vkings by a 33-30 overall margin and committed just 12 turnovers in the triumph.
Brayden Greer led the Rebels with a game-high 32 points, which included 21 after halftime and all eight points in overtime. Landon Hutchinson was next with 13 points, followed by Devin Lucas with nine points and Joseph Ehman with eight markers.
Mikey Wheeler contributed four points to the winning cause, while Ethan Spurlock, Gus Slone and Ethan Swain rounded out the scoring with two markers each. SGHS was 26-of-39 at the free throw line for 67 percent.
The Vikings netted 22-of-54 floor shots for 41 percent, which included an 11-of-26 effort from behind the arc for 42 percent. The hosts also committed 18 turnovers and were 15-of-25 at the charity stripe for 60 percent.
Tyler Rowe and Ryan Gibson each paced SVHS with 18 points, followed by Kurt Adams with 13 points and Jonathan Kouns with 11 markers. Dylan Malone rounded out the scoring with 10 markers.
Rowe fouled out with 1:48 remaining in the fourth quarter and Malone picked up his fifth foul with 34.9 seconds left in overtime.
Saunders was previously 3-0 against his old team before Wednesday, all of which came in regular season contests. Saunders — who led SGHS to sectional crowns in 2005, 2006, 2011 and 2012 —is now 0-2 in tournament games since taking over at Symmes Valley.
Howell served as a varsity assistant under Saunders during the 2011 and 2012 campaigns, then took over a program that had zero letterwinners returning last winter. In getting from that point to this point, Howell was only humble and complimentary in speaking of his troops.
“I cannot say enough about these kids and what kind of adversity we’ve had to go through to get to the Convo,” Howell said. “I do know that we never quit and the kids kept believing in what we were teaching them. That’s what makes this so special.
“I also know that we are not done playing basketball. These kids wanted to get to the Convo, and that’s where we are headed. I’m sure we will all be looking forward to making the trip to Athens.”