MASON, W.Va. — The White Falcons’ free throw shooting came through for them on Tuesday night, especially when they needed it.
Trailing by one point with five seconds left in the fourth quarter, Wahama senior Mason Hildreth hit back-to-back free throws to give the White Falcons a 63-62 victory over Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division guest Southern.
“That was clutch, Mason Hildreth stepped up there and did a whale of a job knocking those two in,” Wahama head coach Ron Bradley said. “I could see it on his face, and you see a kid standing there with confidence, it gives you confidence.”
After a pair of early lead changes, the teams were tied at nine, eight minutes into play.
Wahama (1-1, 1-1 TVC Hocking) took a two point lead early in the second quarter, but an SHS (3-1, 1-1) trifecta gave the guests a 14-13 lead with 6:48 left in the half. The Tornadoes were held scoreless for the next 3:30, however, as Wahama went on a 13-0 run.
Southern halted the run with back-to-back two-pointers, but Wahama claimed seven of the next eight points and led 33-19, with 30 seconds left in the half. The Tornadoes ended the second quarter with a 5-0 run, but Wahama led by eight at halftime.
In the first five minutes of the second half, Southern outscored WHS 19-to-12, cutting the White Falcon lead to one possession at 45-43. However, Wahama ended the third with a 5-1 run and led 50-44 with eight minutes remaining.
Southern made up the deficit in less than 5:30, as a Trey Pickens trifecta with 3:37 left in the game gave the Purple and Gold a 55-54 lead, their first lead since the second quarter. Wahama quickly regained the advantage with a Noah Litchfield two-pointer.
Southern regained the lead with 2:37 left, but Wahama again answered and led 58-57. SHS tied the game at 58 with 2:17 left and two Dylan Smith free throws gave the Tornadoes a 60-58 advantage with 1:20 remaining.
With 51 seconds to go, Noah Litchfield converted an old-fashioned three-pointer to give the White Falcons a one-point lead. However, SHS took the lead back at 62-61 with 40 seconds left, on a two-pointer by Smith.
With time winding down, Litchfield drove to the lane and passed to Hildreth underneath. Hildreth was fouled and sent to the line, where he made both free throws. The Tornadoes failed to get a shot off in the final five seconds, and Wahama claimed the 63-62 win.
“We didn’t play well early, obviously in the first half we played pretty bad,” SHS head coach Jeff Caldwell said. “We were able to come back and get a win like that on Saturday night. Tonight we battled and gave ourselves a chance, but you have to play four quarters of basketball. You can’t just pick it up at the end and think you’re going to win.
“They came out confident and aggressive, and our kids came out flat,” Caldwell added. “Credit goes to Wahama, they came out ready to play, like it was a big game, and they went after us. They hit their foul shots and we struggle from the foul line. Good high school basketball teams can hit foul shots, and right now, that’s a real struggle for us.”
For the game the White Falcons shot 20-of-27 (74.1 percent) from the charity stripe, while Southern was 7-of-18 (38.9 percent).
“I tell them all the time, ‘free throws, layups and rebounds win a lot of basketball games’ and it came true here tonight,” Bradley said. “Two free throws at the end of the game are the same as two free throws at the beginning of the game, you have to make them all. We have to strive for perfection from the free throw line.”
The White Falcons were 19-of-44 (43.2 percent) from the field, including 5-of-12 (41.7 percent) from three-point range. Meanwhile, SHS went 25-of-46 (54.3 percent) from the field, including 5-of-21 (23.8 percent) from deep.
Wahama committed 20 turnovers in the win, while Southern gave the ball away just 10 times. The White Falcons held a 33-to-26 advantage on the boards, despite being outrebounded 9-to-8 on the offensive glass.
“We can’t worry about how big we are, because we’re going to be outsized all season,” Bradley said. “We have to rebound with technique, we have to block-out, get after the basketball and be hard-nosed. They’ve done that so far.”
Litchfield posted a game-best 23 points to lead the Red and White, while Philip Hoffman came through with 18 points, a game-high 15 rebounds and a team-best four assists. Next for the victors was Randy Lantz with 10 points, followed by Hildreth and Jacob Lloyd with six points each. Travis Kearns rounded out the WHS offense with two points, to go with eight rebounds and three assists.
Litchfield also led Wahama defensively, picking up four steals.
Crenson Rogers paced the Purple and Gold with 22 points, followed by Smith with 17 points and five assists. Pickens marked 12 points and a team-best 11 rebounds, Blake Johnson added seven points, while Tylar Blevins had four points and five helpers for the Tornadoes.
Smith and Blevins led the SHS defense with three steals each.
“We have to get back in the gym and work,” said Caldwell. “Right now, we’re no better than we were at the end of last season, we’re about the same. These guys have understand that they have a lot of work to do to get better, if they want to be a good basketball team.”
These teams will meet again on January 24, in Racine.
Both teams will be back in action on Friday, when Wahama visits Eastern and Southern hosts Trimble.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.