MERCERVILLE, Ohio — Success starts at the charity stripe.
The Waterford boys basketball team sank seven free throws in the final two minutes of Tuesday night’s Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division tilt with host South Gallia, capping off the 65-59 Wildcat victory.
The Wildcats (3-0, 3-0 TVC Hocking) charged out to a 9-4 lead midway through the first quarter, but the Rebels (4-2, 2-2) answered with a 10-0 run. Waterford sank the final basket of the opening stanza and cut the deficit to 14-11.
WHS regained the lead less than two minutes into the second quarter, outscoring South Gallia 7-to-3. After exchanging the lead two more times, South Gallia went ahead 22-20 on a three-pointer with 3:11 left in the half. The guests tied the game at 22 with 1:38 remaining, but with just seven seconds left SGHS reestablished the advantage. The Wildcats sank a two-pointer as the halftime buzzer sounded and the teams went into the break tied at 24.
Waterford stormed out of the break, scoring the first 10 points of the second half and establishing a 34-24 lead with 5:30 remaining in the third period. Still trailing by 10 points with 3:30 left in the third, SGHS closed the canto with a 12-3 run that trimmed the deficit to 42-41 headed into the final.
“The last couple games we’ve come out flat in the third quarter,” Waterford head coach Tom Simms said. “I stressed to them ‘let’s go out strong, let’s be positive, let’s be focused, let’s sit down and do the little things right’, they went out and they did. That’s what got us the separation and we stayed that way.”
The Wildcats led by as many as eight points early in the fourth quarter, but their lead was cut to 58-54 with 2:09 left in regulation. WHS hit 7-of-10 free throws over the final two minutes, capping off the 65-59 victory.
“We have to grow up a little bit,” SGHS head coach Larry Howell said. “We’ve got six seniors but they need to be seniors. I think that’s the reason why we struggle to finish close games right now. They just have to step up and lead in those moments.”
Waterford held a 38-to-26 rebounding advantage in the win, while shooting 22-of-48 (45.8 percent) from the field compared to South Gallia’s 20-of-55 (36.4 percent) shooting performance. South Gallia won the turnover battle by a 15-to-27 margin, and held a narrow 10-to-9 edge on the offensive glass. However, the Rebels shot just 6-of-26 (23.1 percent) from beyond the arc, while the Wildcats sank 8-of-19 (42.1 percent) three-point attempts.
“Waterford’s a good team so we knew there was going to be some adversity tonight,” said Howell. “We’re really playing great defense, the kids understand that part. They understand that when our offense is not going, our defense is keeping us in the game. We have to keep building on it and making it better, but on offense it has to be more of a team concept. During the game we can’t let the other team slow us down.”
South Gallia’s offense was led by Joseph Ehman with 18 points and Kane Hutchinson with 17, followed by Josh Henry with 10. Landon Hutchinson marked nine points, Curtis Haner added three, while Dominick Johnson rounded out two Rebel total with two points. As a team SGHS shot 13-of-19 (68.4 percent) from the free throw line, while marking 10 assists, 16 steals, three blocks and 19 fouls.
Landon Hutchinson led the Red and Gold on the boards with eight rebounds, followed by Ehman and Kane Hutchinson with five each. Ehman posted team-highs in assists with four and steals with six, while Johnson blocked two shots. Henry marked three steals and one block for the SGHS defense, while Landon Hutchinson and Kane Hutchinson each had two assists. Kane Hutchinson accounted for half of the Rebels’ six trifectas, while Ehman had two and Haner added one.
“When you go on the road in the TVC it is tough to win,” Simms said. “Coming to South Gallia and getting out with a win is huge. That’s a talented outfit. We made some major mistakes, some unforced turnovers and we were fortunate to get out.”
Bryce Hilverding paced Waterford’s offense with 21 points, followed by Jordan Welch with 15 and Cody Harris with 13. Isaac Huffman, Tyler McCutcheon, Wyatt Lang and Riley Burns each posted four points to cap off the WHS scoring. Waterford hit 13-of-20 (65 percent) free throw attempts and marked 18 assists, nine steals, one block and 17 fouls.
Welch marked a game-best 15 rebounds, while Huffman, who fouled out with 2:18 left in the game, added seven boards and the Wildcats’ lone block. Welch and Huffman led WHS with four assists each, while Hilverding had a team-best four steals. Hilverding accounted for five of Waterford’s eight three pointers, while Harris had two and Welch sank one.
South Gallia will look to avenge this loss on January 26, in Washington County. The Rebels return to action on Friday when they invade Miller.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.