ROCKSPRINGS, Ohio — “When they cut the lead to two, we took a timeout and told our guys that we were going to have win this game with defense. We challenged them to win this game on the defensive end of the floor.”
Those were the words from South Gallia boys basketball coach Donnie Saunders to his team during a timeout at the 4:26 mark of the fourth quarter, moments after Ironton Saint Joseph had whittled a 19-point third quarter deficit down to a 54-52 contest.
The Rebels responsed by holding the fifth-seeded Flyers scoreless the rest of the way, and SGHS earned its fourth district berth in school history Tuesday night following a 60-52 decision at Larry R. Morrison Gymnasium in a Division IV sectional final at Meigs High School.
Fourth-seeded South Gallia (12-9) seized control of the contest early on, as the hosts stormed out to a 22-15 advantage after eight minutes of play. SGHS continued its momentum into the second canto, using a small 15-11 run to take a 37-26 lead into the intermission.
It was more of the same to start the third period, as the Rebels went on an 11-3 surge over the opening five minutes for its biggest lead of the night at 48-29.
And then, the Flyers (10-11) made their final charge.
Ironton St. Joe reeled off five straight points over the next minute to pull within 48-34, then closed the final 1:40 on a 9-4 spurt to pull within single digits headed into the finale at 52-43.
ISJHS started the fourth with five straight points to pull within four (52-48) with 6:21 remaining, but SGHS answered with a basket at the 5:57 mark to extend its edge back out to a full two possessions. The guests countered with consecutive baskets at 5:40 and again at 4:28 to cut the lead down to 54-52.
Following South Gallia’s timeout, Cory Haner scored the Rebels only field goal of the fourth quarter at the 4:14 mark — which gave the hosts a 56-52 lead. Neither team scored for almost three minutes afterwards, until Haner sank consecutive free throws with 32 seconds left for a six-point cushion.
Haner, who scored all eight of the Rebels’ points down the stretch, concluded the scoring with 11 seconds remaining after sinking a pair of free throws to wrap up the eight-point decision. The Flyers’ Eli Lewis had all nine of St. Joe’s fourth period points as well.
South Gallia connected on 24-of-59 field goal attempts for 41 percent, including a 3-of-16 effort from three-point range for 19 percent. SGHS collected 24 rebounds in the triumph and also committed 13 turnovers, 11 of which came in the second half.
Besides a solid defensive stand, the Rebels also had a balanced offensive attack after having five players reach double figures. Haner led the winning cause with 19 points, a dozen of which came in the second half.
Dalton Matney was next with 11 points, while the trio of John Johnson, Levi Ellis and Danny Matney all contributed 10 markers apiece. SGHS went 9-of-11 at the free throw line for 82 percent.
Lewis paced the Flyers with a game-high 23 points, followed by Justin Mahlmeister with 12 points and Ike Palmer nine markers. ISJHS was 8-of-15 at the charity stripe for 53 percent. Both teams committed 11 personal fouls in the contest.
The Rebels will have to wait until Wednesday night to find out who there district opponent will be, as Green and Portsmouth Notre Dame will square off at Valley High School. The winner will takes on South Gallia at 6:15 p.m. on Thursday, March 8, at the Convocation Center in Athens.
SGHS will be making its fourth appearance at the Convo, as the Rebels also went to districts in 2005, 2006 and also last winter.
Saunders believes that a return trip to Ohio University is something truly special for this group.
“Most of these guys were there last year, and they have really talked a lot about getting back to the Convo,” Saunders said. “Well, we’re on our way, and I’m sure the guys will be ready to play when we get to the Convo.
“I’m just really happy for the guys right now. They are good kids and they work hard … they deserve this.”
South Gallia 60, Ironton SJ 52
SJ 15-11-17-9 — 52
SG 22-15-14-8 — 60
IRONTON SAINT JOSEPH (10-11): Grant Geswain 0 0-0 0, Ike Palmer 3 3-6 9, Joseph Payton 0 0-0 0, Zach Dalton 0 3-6 3, Eli Lewis 11 1-1 23, Justin Mahlmeister 4 0-0 12, Troy Scott 2 1-2 5. TOTALS: 20 8-15 52. Three-point goals: 4 (Mahlmeister 4). Team Fouls: 11.
SOUTH GALLIA (12-9): John Johnson 5 0-1 10, David Michael 0 0-0 0, Ethan Spurlock 0 0-0 0, Cory Haner 5 8-9 19, Levi Ellis 5 0-0 10, Danny Matney 4 1-1 10, Dalton Matney 5 0-0 11. TOTALS: 24 9-11 60. Three-point goals: 3 (Haner, Dan. Matney, Dalt. Matney). Field Goals: 24-59 (.407). Rebounds: 24. Turnovers: 13. Team Fouls: 11.