MERCERVILLE, Ohio — The seeds have sprouted and are beginning to blossom.
After enduring a 7-17 record a year ago with only one senior, the South Gallia boys basketball team showed real signs of maturity Friday night during a 57-44 victory over visiting Federal Hocking in a Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division matchup in Gallia County.
The Rebels (3-0, 2-0 TVC Hocking) fell behind 4-0 just 90 seconds into regulation, but the hosts responded with a 14-6 run over the final six-plus minutes to secure a 14-10 edge after eight minutes of play.
The Lancers (1-2, 1-1) were then held scoreless over the opening four minutes of the second canto, which allowed SGHS to go on a 7-0 surge for a comfortable 21-10 cushion.
Fed Hock ended a 4:20 scoreless drought at the 3:50 mark to close back to within single digits, but the hosts answered with a trifecta on their next possession — giving South Gallia its largest lead of the first half at 24-12.
The Lancers, however, held SGHS scoreless the rest of the second canto while going on a 4-0 run, allowing the guests to close the deficit down to 24-16 headed into the break.
The Rebels maintained a 10-point lead throughout most of the third period, but FHHS made a quick 4-0 run in the final minute to close to within 40-34 entering the fourth. The guests then received a Cliff Bonner basket a minute into the finale to pull within 40-36, but ultimately never came closer the rest of the way.
SGHS answered with a small 5-4 spurt to extend its lead out to 45-40 with 4:30 left in regulation, then closed the game with a 12-4 surge to wrap up the 13-point decision — the Rebels’ largest lead of the contest.
South Gallia shot 49 percent from the field overall and went 6-of-13 from three-point territory for 46 percent while also forcing 21 Fed Hock turnovers. The Lancers made just 35 percent of their shot attempts — including a 2-of-17 effort from three-point range for 12 percent — and came away with 15 takeaways in the setback.
In a big game against the defending TVC Hocking champs, these still somewhat-young Rebels proved that they could handle the pressure — particularly against a coach (Howie Caldwell) that had led teams to three of the last four league titles.
That fact, and the end result, almost brought second-year SGHS coach Larry Howell to tears afterwards.
“The theme for us before the game was that we needed to cross that bridge. We needed to take the next step and beat a solid team, and Howie’s teams are usually well-coached and they are going to execute,” Howell said. “We were the team that executed better and came up with the big plays when we needed them tonight. I am just so proud of these kids.
“These guys have worked so hard since last season, and this result is a tribute to all of that work and determination. It’s a good feeling and I’m happy for the kids, but we cannot be satisfied. We still have a lot of basketball to play this year.”
With the triumph — a first for Howell against Fed Hock — the Rebels maintain pace with Waterford as the only unbeaten teams in the early TVC Hocking standings.
Federal Hocking outrebounded the hosts by a 22-15 overall margin, which included a 9-5 edge on the offensive glass. The guests also committed at least 10 turnovers in each half of basketball, compared to nine and six giveaways each half by the Rebels.
SGHS struggled from the free throw line after sinking only 5-of-14 attempts overall for 36 percent, but the hosts were 3-of-6 down the stretch. The Lancers finished the night 8-of-12 at the charity stripe for 67 percent.
Ethan Spurlock led the Rebels — who were 23-of-47 from the field — with a game-high 16 points, followed by Landon Hutchinson and Brayden Greer with 13 markers apiece. Spurlock also hauled in a team-best seven rebounds and Greer dished out six assists.
Mikey Wheeler was next with five points and Gus Slone contributed four markers to the winning cause, while the duo of Joseph Ehman and Ethan Swain rounded things out with three points apiece.
Peyton Seel paced Fed Hock — which went 17-of-48 from the field — with 10 points, followed by Delbert Crum, Ivan Santiago and Alex Nichols with eight markers each. Seel also had a team-high five rebounds, while Cliff Bonner added a game-high five steals.