ROCKSPRINGS, Ohio — The Tornadoes took the season series and more importantly the spot in the sectional final.
The Southern boys basketball team —which split the two regular season meetings with archrival Eastern —claimed the third clash of the Meigs County schools by a 52-48 edge, in Wednesday night’s Division IV sectional semifinal at Larry R. Morrison Gymnasium, on the campus of Meigs High School.
The 10th-seeded Tornadoes (6-17) started strong offensively, sinking 9-of-19 field goal tries, including 3-of-5 three-point attempts in the opening quarter. The Purple and Gold first quarter defense also came to play, holding the seventh-seeded Eagles (6-15) to 4-of-11 shooting from the field, while forcing five turnovers. SHS outrebounded Eastern by an 11-6 clip in the first period, leading to a 21-9 Tornado advantage on the scoreboard.
The Green and Gold scored the first four points of the second stanza, but the Tornadoes responded with six of the next eight points, on three-pointers by juniors Blake Johnson and Tylar Blevins. Those two trifectas were Southern’s only two field goals of the period, however, as Eastern ended the half with an 7-0 run that made the halftime score 27-22 in favor of the Purple and Gold.
Eastern continued its hot stretch to start the second half, scoring seven of the first nine points and tying the game at 29 with 3:52 left in the third quarter. Southern head coach Jeff Caldwell was forced to call a timeout to regroup and the Tornadoes responded with a 7-1 run to end the third.
“We just ran a set to try and get a shot and Tylar hit a three,” SHS head coach Jeff Caldwell said of his changes in the timeout. “I thought we might need to switch it up a little bit to slow them down, because they had the momentum. That’s when we switched to the 2-3 zone.”
Southern’s 36-30 lead at the start of the fourth quarter, grew to 46-35 with two minutes left in regulation, but the Purple and Gold had to play the remainder without the services of starting point guard Dylan Smith, who had just fouled out.
By the 1:00 mark, Eastern trimmed the deficit to three points, but the Tornadoes scored three of the next four points and led 49-44 with 20 seconds to play.
Eastern junior Jett Facemyer cut the deficit to one possession with a two-pointer at the 17 second mark, but Southern junior Crenson Rogers sank 1-of-2 free throws with 13 seconds left, making the SHS lead 50-46. Facemyer cut the lead to two points with six seconds left, and the Eagles fouled Rogers again with four seconds on the clock. The Southern center hit both free throws to drive the final nail in the 52-48 victory.
“That was big, I’m really proud of him for hitting those two shots right there,” said Caldwell on Rogers final two free throw makes. “Crenson has been up and down from the foul line this year, but right there toward the end of the game we were trying to get the ball into Tylar’s hands or his hands. They are the guys who have been our leading scorers in a lot of games this year.”
Rogers paced the Purple and Gold with 19 points and nine rebounds, while Blevins added 19 points and six boards. Trey Pickens posted six points and four rebounds, Smith added five points and a game-best six assists, while Johnson chipped in with three points and a team-high two steals. Rogers and Jaylen Blanks each recorded one steal and one block for the Tornado defense.
“We really felt that we came in with a solid gameplan,” Eastern head coach Jeremy Hill said. “The gameplan was executed at times and at times, it wasn’t executed. Our kids never quit and that’s the sign of a maturing ball club. They didn’t just roll over and in the past we would have done that.”
Facemyer charged the Eagle offense with 24 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter. EHS senior Dillon Swatzel recorded a double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds, while Cameron Richmond had five points, seven rebounds and two assists.
Corbett Catlett scored five points, Austin Coleman added two points and a team-best four steals, while Ross Keller marked one point and six rebounds. Chase Curtis didn’t score in the setback, but pulled in four rebounds and dished out two assists. Swatzel posted one steal and one block for the Eagle defense.
For the game, Eastern held a 36-to-22 rebounding advantage, including an 18-to-5 edge on the offensive glass. Southern finished with 13 assists, five steals, three blocks and 13 turnovers, while EHS had seven assists, seven steals, one block and 11 turnovers.
“In the first quarter we didn’t do a very good job on those rebounds,” Hill said. “It cost us, because they got a lot of second opportunities to score. We settled down and emphasized that we have to box out and yes, the rest of the game I felt like we won the boards. Unfortunately, you have to play all 32 minutes that way and I feel like there was an eight-minute stretch where we didn’t do a good job of rebounding.”
The Tornadoes — who have won three consecutive games — shot 9-of-14 (64.3 percent) from the free throw line and 18-of-39 (46.2 percent) from the field, including 7-of-14 (50 percent) from beyond the arc. The Eagles — who missed all nine of their three-point attempts — shot 19-of-57 (33.3 percent) from the field and 10-of-16 (62.5 percent) from the charity stripe.
“We’ve been shooting the ball better here toward the end of the year, but we still have spells where we struggle offensively,” said Caldwell. “I thought our defense was pretty good for the most part and that’s what we’ve been preaching. Eastern showed a lot coming back like they did and it was a tough battle all the way. Hat’s off to Coach Hill and his team.”
Southern — which fell to EHS by a 54-44 count on January 12, in Racine — also defeated the Green and Gold on February 12, by a 53-45 final in Tuppers Plains. The Tornadoes never trailed in their victory at Eastern.
“Southern and Coach Caldwell came prepared tonight and they won the ball game,” Hill said. “I wish them the best of luck the rest of the way.”
This is the fourth time in the last decade that SHS and EHS have met in the postseason, with Southern holding a 3-1 edge. Last season, Southern topped the Eagles by a 66-57 final in the sectional semifinal at MHS, and just like last year, the Tornadoes will meet South Gallia in the sectional championship game in Larry R. Morrison Gymnasium.
“The thing that’s tough about South Gallia is that they’re so athletic,” said Caldwell. “We’ll have a week to get ready for the next one and I’m looking forward to it. I told the guys that I’m excited about having them for another week where we can get some more practices in. I feel like they’ve been getting better all year.”
The second-seeded Rebels, went 2-0 against SHS this season with a 65-50 victory in Racine on December 12, and a 67-47 triumph in Mercerville on January 30.
Even though they’re knocked out of the postseason, the Eagles will have a chance to end the season on a high-note, as the Green and Gold will visit Federal Hocking in a makeup game on February 26. EHS claimed its first win of the season over FHHS on January 8, by a 57-45 count in Tuppers Plains. That will be the final game for Eagle seniors Ross Keller, Chase Curtis, Ty Bissell, Cameron Richmond and Dillon Swatzel.
“This has been a successful season on so many different levels,” Hill said. “I love our seniors more than anything. They’re really a great group of seniors and they’ve shown the underclassmen what it means to be leaders. Everyday we were in the gym it was a positive atmosphere. When we started winning it became an atmosphere that we honestly weren’t used to, it was fun. For that I’m grateful, because it shows the underclassmen what winning does, it’ll transform your program.”
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.