JACKSON, Ohio — Every possession counted … particularly the final one.
Trailing by two points with 22.9 seconds remaining, the River Valley boys basketball team struggled to get an errant 25-foot desperation heave off just before the buzzer — allowing Coal Grove to escape Jackson High School with a 46-44 victory Monday night in a Division III sectional semifinal contest in the Apple City.
Both the 13th-seeded Raiders (5-17) and fourth-seeded Hornets (14-7) hauled in 10 offensive rebounds and also went 16-of-40 overall from the field, which only added to the drama involving the 80th shot of the night.
D.J. Miller netted a free throw to extend the Hornets’ lead out to 46-44 with just under 23 seconds left in regulation, then RVHS called a timeout to set up the final play of the game — needing to go 94 feet in the process.
The guests inbounded the ball and managed to get past half court before being hounded and pressured in the upper corners, which threw off the rhythm of the designed play. A couple of contested passes later, the ball ended up in the hands of Justin Rusk with just a few ticks left on the clock.
Rusk — who caught the pass nearly seven feet away from the top of the key — launched a 25-footer that ultimately came up short of the rim just as the buzzer sounded, allowing CGHS to survive and advance on to the next round.
The Hornets will face fifth-seeded Nelsonville-York at 8:30 p.m. Friday in a sectional final at JHS. The Buckeyes defeated Crooksville by a 57-49 count in the final D-3 semifinal Monday evening at Jackson.
Both teams held a lead in each of the first three quarters of play, and neither team led by more than seven points in the entire contest. There were also five lead changes and one tie in the one-possession outcome.
The Raiders jumped out to a 3-0 edge two minutes into regulation, but the hosts answered with an 8-0 surge en route to a 12-7 advantage after eight minutes of play. Austen Pleasant netted the opening basket of the second canto to give CGHS its largest lead of the first half at 14-7 with 7:33 remaining.
River Valley, however, responded with a 10-3 charge over the next three minutes, as Brody Moles capped the run with a free throw to tie things at 17-all with 4:40 left in the half.
Coal Grove retaliated with a 5-2 spurt to take a 22-19 edge with 2:14 remaining, but Tyler Twyman capped a 7-0 run with a trifecta just before the buzzer — allowing RVHS to take a 26-22 cushion into the intermission.
The Raiders made 11-of-25 field goal attempts in the first half and outrebounded the hosts by a sizable 16-8 overall margin, including an 8-1 edge on the offensive glass. CGHS, conversely, sank 10-of-19 shots and committed four turnovers by halftime, two less than the guests’ tally of six.
RVHS made a small 6-4 run to start the third canto, as Seann Roberts nailed a short jumper at the 3:25 mark to give the guests their largest lead of the night at 32-26.
Coal Grove countered with a 7-1 spurt to pull even at 33-all with 42 seconds left, then Austen Pleasant hit a free throw with one second left to give the hosts what would be a permanent lead at 34-33 headed into the finale.
Isaiah Gunther capped a 6-0 run to start the fourth, allowing the Hornets to take a 40-33 lead with 5:32 remaining. RVHS thrice closed to within a point down the stretch, but ultimately never came closer than 45-44 after a pair of free throws from Tyler Twyman with 24.7 seconds left.
Both teams shot 40 percent from the field overall. CGHS was 4-of-9 from three-point range for 44 percent, while the guests were 3-of-10 from behind the arc for 30 percent. River Valley was 9-of-12 at the free throw line for 75 percent, while the Hornets were 10-of-20 at the charity stripe for 50 percent.
The Raiders outrebounded Coal Grove by a 27-24 overall margin and also committed 14 turnovers in the setback, compared to just nine by the hosts.
John Qualls led RVHS with 11 points, followed by Seann Roberts with 10 points and Tyler Twyman with nine markers. Justin Rusk and Andrew Moffett respectively added seven and six points, while Brody Moles rounded out the scoring with two markers.
Conor Markins paced the Hornets with a game-high 24 points, followed by Austen Pleasant with eight markers. Sean Paulus and D.J. Miller also chipped in four points apiece to the winning cause.
River Valley still has a game to makeup at Rock Hill, which will be the final OVC hoops contest for the Raiders before joining the TVC this upcoming fall.