RACINE, Ohio — First, they were the kings of the Smokies.
Now, as of Tuesday night, the Meigs Marauders are the boys basketball kings of Meigs County for this year.
That’s because the Marauders, in gaining the lead in the second quarter and never relinquishing it, defeated the host Southern Tornadoes 62-48 in a non-league tilt.
With the victory, combined with winning at intra-county rival Eastern exactly nine days ago, the Marauders made it a season sweep of their Meigs County brethren.
In fact, Tuesday’s triumph —in front of a capacity crowd and inside sweltering Southern High School — made it an impressive eight consecutive for Meigs.
The Marauders opened the year at 0-4, but then won three Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division contests — before capturing three bouts in three days in winning their bracket at the King of the Smokies Christmas Classic.
Since their return from Tennessee, and already in 2017, the Marauders have made it back-to-back wins over Eastern and Southern.
And, according to Meigs head coach Ed Fry, his squad “played a complete game” — or just about as close to it — on Tuesday.
“Eastern and Southern come with everything they have against Meigs. But tonight, and I may be wrong, but I felt we played a complete game from start to finish. We didn’t have any hiccups, we got the lead, got the lead to double figures and played well down the stretch,” he said.
Fry was pretty much spot on.
The Marauders scored the opening five points, gained the lead just nine seconds into the second stanza, opened up a double-digit margin just 20 seconds into the third canto — and never let the Tornadoes get within single digits again.
Meigs seized control in the opening minute-and-a-half of the third, scoring eight unanswered points to open up a 40-25 advantage.
For the final 14 minutes and 30 seconds, the Tornadoes never got closer than a dozen — while the Marauders managed exactly six 16-point leads (45-29, 46-30, 48-32, 56-40, 58-42 and 62-46) from there.
While Meigs made seven three-pointers, including three by Christian Mattox and two by Luke Musser, it was the Marauders’ 1-3-1 extended zone defense that truly made the most difference.
The Tornadoes, in excess of 20 turnovers against Nelsonville-York and 27 at Belpre last Friday, committed 25 more against Meigs.
Fry said his club combined high energy with defensive pressure in turning over the Tornadoes.
In opening up a 23-14 second-quarter lead only two-and-a-half minutes in, the Marauders forced four straight Southern turnovers.
“I told the kids that I think we could put more pressure on them (Tornadoes) than Belpre could, so let’s see what we could do. We didn’t do anything special, we just amped it (defense) up,” said Fry. “Against Eastern, we ran the same defense we did tonight, but the energy wasn’t there. Tonight, we brought that energy along with the defense. We rotated guys in and out all night to keep fresh legs going, and I think that pressure over time just wears you down.”
The initial quarter featured seven lead changes — with Southern actually leading 14-13 at the first stop.
But the Marauders reeled off 10 unanswered points in the first two minutes and 45 seconds of the second, and withstood six straight Tornado markers to eventually stake a 32-25 advantage at halftime.
Then, Mattox and Musser made back-to-back three-balls in the third frame’s opening minute, as a Musser assist to Jared Kennedy quickly stretched the Marauder lead to 15 (40-25).
For Southern, which slipped to an even 5-5, it was the exact opposite of the second-half start it wanted.
In all, in the middle two quarters, Meigs outscored the Purple and Gold 37-21.
“Even though with all the turnovers we had in the first half, to only be down seven, I actually felt pretty good coming out in the second half. In the second half, we had to take better care of the basketball and get off to a good start. And we didn’t,” said Southern coach Jeff Caldwell. “We practice against it (1-3-1 zone defense), but you can’t simulate that athleticism and quickness that they have. Meigs is a very talented team coming in here playing very good basketball of late. We were right there with them, but the start of the second half, we let it get away from us.”
The Marauders shot 43-percent (23-of-53) from the field, which was boosted by nailing seven of a dozen (58-percent) three-pointers.
Four Meigs members mustered double figures, paced by a strong double-double from senior center Jared Kennedy.
Kennedy connected on seven field goals towards 15 points, while Zach Bartrum bucketed five total field goals — including a trey — for a dozen.
Kennedy also grabbed 13 rebounds and made three blocks, while Mattox made off with five steals and dished out four assists.
Mattox and Musser made four total field goals apiece towards 11 and 10 points respectively.
Weston Baer on two baskets, Zach Helton on a field goal and 2-of-2 free throws, Dillon Mahr on 3-of-4 foul shots, and Bailey Caruthers on the club’s other trifecta rounded out the Marauders’ scoring.
Crenson Rogers, on six field goals and 6-of-9 free throws, paced the Tornadoes and all scorers with 18 points.
Weston Thorla, on five field goals and 2-of-2 free throws, chipped in 13 for Southern.
Tylar Blevins busted two triples towards eight points, as Thorla, Blake Johnson and Dylan Smith all made one three-ball.
Smith sank Southern’s only other free throw, while Trey Pickens posted a basket to round out the team’s scoring.
“Meigs is a good team and we play a tough non-league schedule. All the schools we play with the exception of one are bigger schools,” said Caldwell. “We go up against some good athletes right there, and hopefully that just makes us better.”
Southern travels to Eastern on Friday night for a TVC-Hocking matchup, while Meigs —at 3-0 in the TVC-Ohio — ventures to undefeated and division co-leader Vinton County (10-0, 4-0 TVC-Ohio).
The winner will take over sole possession of first-place in the TVC-Ohio.
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106