RICHMOND DALE, Ohio —Simply put, it wasn’t a good game to cap off what wasn’t a good week for the Gallia Academy Blue Devils.
With illness impacting the Blue Devils’ practice and preparation prior to Friday night, Gallia Academy fell behind early and never could mount a major charge late — as the Blue Devils lost to the Waverly Tigers 66-46 in a Division II boys basketball sectional championship tilt inside Southeastern High School’s Larry Jordan Gymnasium.
Needing only to win on Friday night for the right to return to the district tournament, and the Ohio University Convocation Center, the fifth-seeded Blue Devils didn’t do much right against the fourth-seeded and athletic Tigers.
The Blue Devils allowed the opening eight points in the first minute-and-a-half, quickly fell behind 25-9 following the first quarter, and spent 16 minutes finally getting the deficit to within a dozen points (50-38) to close the third period.
But the Tigers doubled up the Blue Devils 16-8 in the final frame, scoring the first seven points to lead 57-38 with five minutes and 11 seconds remaining.
Gallia Academy got a pair of free throws from Justin McClelland, and a Zach Loveday basket off a Kaden Thomas steal, but a Trey Rigsby old-fashioned three-point play —plus a pair of free throws by Easton Wolf with 2:27 to go — pretty much sealed the Waverly deal at 62-42.
A putback basket by Loveday, along with a Cory Call bucket to make it 66-46, were the Blue Devils’ only other points of the entire fourth period.
While Waverly’s win moved the Tigers to 17-6, Gallia Academy ended its turnaround season at 16-7.
GAHS head coach Gary Harrison said it was a difficult contest to conclude what’s been a difficult week getting ready.
“This was one of those games where we had illness all week and our preparation wasn’t great. And when you get to the sectional and district tournaments, it’s physical. We should have been used to physicality, because of all the teams we play in the OVC (Ohio Valley Conference),” he said.
But Waverly’s fast start, which was boosted by several Blue Devil turnovers and poor rebounding, had the greatest impact.
The Tigers led 8-0 only a minute-and-a-half in, and Gallia Academy’s first points didn’t come until 15 seconds later — when Evan Wiseman drove to the goal.
Waverly, which stymied the Blue and White to several one-and-out offensive possessions, widened its lead to 25-9 at the end of the first quarter — on a Clayton Howell buzzer-beating jump shot.
A Miles Cornwell layup at the 3:10 mark, a Cornwell three-pointer at the two-minute point, and a Call basket 45 seconds later were Gallia Academy’s only other points in the period.
“We knew that they were going to transition and we didn’t get back on defense. They are quick and athletic and our youth had a little bit to do with it. We were just kind of shell-shocked. I think our nerves played into it, but Waverly made the shots at the beginning of the game. In the second quarter, they were 3-for-20 shooting, but we just never could make that run to close the gap,” said Harrison. “We didn’t get the ball into the post starting out. We started out shooting too many threes, and this is not a shooting gym as you can tell. Had we got the ball into the post starting out, we would have been better off.”
But the Blue Devils’ primary post player —six-foot, five-inch Justin Peck —played little.
Peck was battling the flu, and didn’t play at all in the entire fourth quarter, as he failed to score a single point.
But Wiseman and Loveday didn’t feel well, either.
“Justin has been sick all week, and they were double and triple-teaming him the whole time he was in there. This was one of those games that was not a good matchup for him, and we just couldn’t get him going,” said Harrison. “He missed two days of practice where he was sick. And (Evan) Wiseman has been sick and (Zach) Loveday has been sick. Our preparation for this game was not very good. We were without two or three kids all week for practice, and it was just a tough week.”
In the second stanza, the Blue Devils fell behind by as much as 25 twice (35-10 and 38-13), but Loveday scored the final five points of the half — before Wiseman scored the first four of the second to make it 38-22.
Loveday, on six deuces and a free throw, paced the Blue Devils with 13 points.
He also blocked a half-dozen shots in the final game of his freshman campaign.
McClelland canned a three-ball to make it 42-27 at the five-and-a-half minute mark, and Gallia Academy appeared ready to make a serious late rally — scoring nine unanswered to end the third.
In fact, over the final four minutes of the frame, Gallia Academy outscored Waverly 11-3 to trail 50-38 entering the fourth.
It was the Blue Devils’ closest deficit since 21-9 with 1:15 left in the first quarter.
However, the Blue Devils didn’t score for the final 1:17 of the third —or the opening 3:11 of the last.
The Tigers, meanwhile, meshed 8-of-11 fourth-quarter foul shots —part of 16-of-25 for the entire game.
“We made a run where I thought we were going to get it (deficit) to single digits. But give them (Tigers) credit, they made the shots when they had them, and they crashed the boards. We didn’t do a great job of our guards going down and rebounding,” said Harrison.
Call collected four baskets and a free throw for nine points, while McClelland ended up with seven and Wiseman six.
Thomas with an old-fashioned three-point play to make it 50-35, and Gage Harrison with a second-stanza trifecta, rounded out the GAHS scoring.
Four Tigers reached double figures — Cade Marquez with a game-high 15 points, Wolfe and Howell with 13 points apiece, and Rigsby with 11.
Friday’s affair marked the final for two Gallia Academy seniors: Cornwell and Dondre Armstrong.
“Miles Cornwell has been a great asset to our program. He has been through some tough times, but he got to live through a great season this year. He is a great kid who is going to be successful in life and that is a lot more important than basketball. And Dondre (Armstong) went through the wars with us too,” said Harrison. “I told them that going 16-7 is great this year.”
However, Harrison had his mind on next season already.
Indeed, he was already past what was a difficult final game to cap off a difficult final week.
“Next year, we have a lot coming back, but we’re going to be the hunted instead of the hunter,” said Harrison. “We’re going to have a target on us next year, and this experience of playing in this environment was good for our kids. We only had two kids that played in the sectional game last year. It’s a different environment along with the physicality. Next year, we’re going to be experienced, but there are going to be some high expectations.”
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106