RACINE, Ohio — The White Falcons certainly saved their best for last.
The Wahama boys basketball team led the host Tornadoes by just one-point, with eight minutes to go in Tuesday night’s Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division tilt at Southern High School. However, the White Falcons hit 6-of-7 field goals and 19-of-22 free throws in the fourth quarter, as the guests claimed a 69-57 victory, in Meigs County.
Wahama (7-7, 5-5 TVC Hocking) took its first lead of the night at 5-2 with 5:43 left in the opening quarter, and the White Falcons never trailed again. Southern (6-8, 5-5) tied at five and again at 10, but the Red and White held a 13-10 lead by the end of the first period.
WHS pushed its lead to 18-10 within the opening 30 seconds of the second period, but the White Falcons were scoreless for the next four minutes.
The Tornadoes cut their deficit to 18-16, by the 3:57 mark of the second quarter, but the White Falcons answered with a 9-2 run, expanding their advantage to 27-18 with one minute left in the half. However, the Tornadoes scored the final five points of the first half, cutting the WHS advantage to 27-23.
Southern went cold after the break, being held without a field goal for the first 4:50 of the third. Wahama took advantage with a 7-2 run, giving the guests a 34-25 lead. Southern outscored the White Falcons 11-to-3 over the remainder of the third, trimming the deficit to 37-36 with eight minutes to go.
Wahama began the final quarter with a two-minute 8-0 run, extending the White Falcon lead back to nine points, at 45-36. The guests outscored the Purple and Gold 14-to-9 over next four minutes, as Wahama’s lead grew to a game-high 14 points, at 59-45.
In the final two minutes, the SHS caught fire, hitting four three-pointers. However, Wahama was clutch from the free throw line, connecting on 10-of-10 attempts to seal the 69-57 victory.
“This is a great win, Southern is a quality basketball team,” Wahama head coach Ron Bradley said. “Coach Caldwell always does a great job with these guys, he always has them prepared and playing hard. We’re very fortunate to come in here and get a win tonight. It seems like all year long we play a good first half, then come out kind of flat in the third quarter, and then we pick it up a little bit in the fourth. Pretty solid effort all the way through tonight and we made free throws down the stretch.”
The White Falcons won the rebounding battle by a 31-to-22 count, but Southern held an 11-to-5 edge on the offensive glass. Wahama claimed a narrow 15-to-13 advantage in assists, while SHS claimed a 12-to-4 edge in steals.
After zero turnovers in the opening quarter, Wahama gave the ball away 23 times over the next three periods. Southern committed just 10 turnovers in the setback.
“Wahama played really well, every time we made a mistake they buried a shot and they defiantly hit their foul shots,” SHS head coach Jeff Caldwell said. “We weren’t meaning to foul them that much in the second half, but they got to the line and they hit them.”
For the game, Wahama was 25-of-33 (75.8 percent) from the free throw line, while Southern was 8-of-15 (53.3 percent).
“We work so hard on shooting free throws everyday, it paid off tonight,” said Coach Bradley. “We’ve had some games where, down the stretch, we didn’t make free throws and it cost us. I’m just tickled to death that we did here tonight.”
Wahama’s hot touch wasn’t only from the line, as the White Falcons were 19-of-35 (54.3 percent) from the field, including 6-of-10 (60 percent) from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Southern was 21-of-59 (35.6 percent) from the field, including 7-of-27 (25.9 percent) from three-point range.
“I think the difference in the game was them hitting shots and us struggling to hit shots,” Coach Caldwell said. “Sometimes our shot selection is still not the greatest, but there were other times when we had wide open shots and we just didn’t knock them down. The kids are giving an effort, we’re just struggling to put the ball in the hole. If we’re not hitting shots, we need to find a way to do a better job on the defensive end.”
Wahama was led by Philip Hoffman and Noah Litchfield, each posting 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Travis Kearns scored 17 points and dished out four assists, while Mason Hildreth chipped in with a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds. The WHS offense was rounded out by Randy Lantz with four points.
Hoffman led the WHS defense with two steals, while Kearns blocked a shot.
SHS senior Crenson Rogers led the Tornadoes with 15 points and seven rebounds. Tylar Blevins and Trey McNickle both scored 14 points, with Blevins recording game-highs of seven assists and four steals. Blake Johnson scored 10 points for the Purple and Gold, while Dylan Smith contributed three points.
Wahama also won the first meeting between these teams, claiming a 63-62 victory with a late free throw, on December 13 at WHS.
The White Falcons snapped their three-game losing skid with the win, while Southern has now dropped three straight games.
Wahama will visit Wirt County on Thursday and then resume league play on Friday, when Eastern visits Gary Clark Court. Southern will travel to Glouster for a showdown with Trimble, on Friday.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.