JACKSON, Ohio — It wasn’t how the Blue Devils wanted this history recorded.
The Gallia Academy boys basketball team started strong, but host Jackson had the last laugh Saturday night during a 53-40 decision in the final Southeastern Ohio Athletic League contest between storied rivals in the Apple City.
The Blue Devils (7-15, 1-5 SEOAL) — who leave the SEOAL after nine decades of membership following this current school year — trailed only 26 seconds in the entire first half as Devin Henry netted four trifectas in the opening six minutes of play, which ultimately allowed the guests to secure a comfortable 14-7 cushion through eight minutes of play.
The Ironmen, however, held GAHS to just 9-of-28 shooting after the first quarter, and the Red and White made a furious 46-26 charge the rest of the way to become the last team to win an SEOAL boys basketball outcome.
JHS (4-17, 1-5) — winners of two straight — completed a 27-point turnaround with Gallia Academy after the Blue and White earned 48-34 decision in Centenary back on January 30. The hosts also snapped a nine-game losing skid in SEOAL play, with their last league win coming over GAHS on January 16, 2015, during a 43-40 overtime decision in Jackson.
The Blue Devils, conversely, have just four SEOAL wins (4-18) in the last three seasons — all over Jackson — and enter the 2016 postseason on a three-game losing skid.
Afterwards, third-year GAHS coach Gary Harrison admitted that this historic night didn’t go nearly as well as he had hoped for his troops.
“We knew we were coming into a hostile environment and that Jackson was going to be up for this game, given all things that had happened here in the last week,” Harrison said, referencing the tragic passing of JHS softball coach Emileigh Cooper a week earlier. “We played well early on, but then we got careless with the basketball and stopped making shots. We are the type of team that cannot afford to turn the ball over and quit making shots.
“We wanted to be the last team to win a league game in the SEOAL, mainly because of all of the history and the memories that we have during the time that we’ve been a part of this league. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out for us the way we hoped. As it is, Jackson is the one that gets that final honor.”
Following the hot first quarter start, Evan Wiseman netted the opening basket of the second period at the 6:57 mark — giving the guests their largest lead of the night at 16-7. JHS countered with a 9-3 surge over the rest of the canto, allowing GAHS to claim a slim 19-16 edge headed into halftime.
The Ironmen rallied to knot things up at 23-all with 4:42 remaining in the third, then the hosts took a permanent lead 14 seconds later as Peyton Speakman hit a jumper for a 25-23 contest. Speakman’s basket also sparked an 11-2 run over the final 4:28 of the period, completing an 18-6 third quarter run en route to a 34-25 advantage headed into the finale.
Gallia Academy whittled its deficit down to 38-32 following a Kole Carter basket at the 5:26 mark, but the guests never came closer. Jackson followed with a 15-2 surge over the next four-plus minutes and claimed the largest lead of the game at 53-34 with 57.9 seconds left in regulation.
Henry and Drew VanSickle each buried a trifecta in the final minute for GAHS, which ultimately wrapped up the 13-point outcome.
In the toughest of scenarios for any head coach, first-year JHS frontman Max Morrow noted that his kids showed some real character and resolve in coming away with this triumph.
“We played with very heavy hearts, but I think that we showed just how much of a close-knit group and community that we are by coming together tonight to win this game,” Morrow said. “These guys haven’t quit all year through all of the adversity and it seems that it’s all coming together at the right time for us. We’ve doubled our win total in the last week and we won our first SEOAL game in over a year, so that’s a memorable Senior Night for our kids. With it being the final SEOAL win and with it coming over Gallia Academy, that makes it a little bit more special for us.”
The Ironmen outrebounded the Blue and White by a sizable 27-14 overall advantage, including a 9-4 edge on the offensive glass. Gallia Academy committed 13 of its 17 turnovers after halftime, while the Red and White committed 13 turnovers in the win.
GAHS connected on 14-of-35 field goal attempts for 40 percent, including a 7-of-22 effort from three-point range for 32 percent. The guests were also a meager 5-of-19 at the free throw line for 26 percent. Henry led the Blue Devils with 15 points, followed by Wes Jarrell with nine points and Carter with seven markers.
Wiseman and VanSickle respectively added four and three points to the losing effort, while Justin McClelland rounded things out with two points. Jarrell hauled in a team-high six rebounds and Wiseman also had four boards.
The Ironmen netted 16-of-37 shot attempts for 43 percent, including a 2-of-10 effort from behind the arc for 20 percent. The hosts were also 19-of-26 at the charity stripe for 73 percent, including 11-of-14 at the line in the final stanza.
Josh Spires paced JHS with a game-high 16 points, followed by Speakman with 13 points and Cooper Donaldson with 11 markers. Dakota Nichols also had six points for the victors.
Blake McCoy and Carson Spohn respectively added four and two points for the Red and White, while Kendall Neal wrapped things up with one marker. Spires, Donaldson and McCoy also grabbed five rebounds apiece for the Ironmen.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.