POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — Not a great start, not a great finish, but what the Blue Devils did in between made all the difference.
The Gallia Academy boys basketball went on a 37-11 run over the middle two quarters of Saturday’s non-conference game in Mason County, as the Blue Devils claimed a 60-39 victory over Point Pleasant in the ‘Battle of the Bridge’.
After a pair of lead changes in the opening quarter, the teams were tied at 12 with 1:30 to play in the stanza. Gallia Academy (8-1) sank a two-pointer with 10 seconds to go in the period and never trailed again.
The Blue Devils started the second quarter with four straight buckets off of Point Pleasant (1-6) turnovers. GAHS outscored its host by a 22-4 clip in the period and went into the half with a 36-16 lead.
Gallia Academy’s lead grew to as many as 30 points, at 50-20, in the third quarter, but the guests settled for a 51-23 lead headed into the finale.
The Blue Devils scored the first four points of the fourth quarter, stretching their lead to a game-high 31 points. The Big Blacks closed out the game with a 16-to-5 run, making the final margin of 60-39.
“It was the first time we’ve had back-to-back games,” GAHS head coach Gary Harrison said. “We knew that eventually our defense was going to kick in, we’ve been playing such good defense, giving up about 37 points a game. We wanted to apply ball pressure and we wanted to gradually get into that.
“What we’ve worked on for two months now is our defense. In our 18 days off, we worked a lot on that and we’re getting better at it.”
The Blue Devils shot 26-of-68 (38.2 percent) from the field, including 2-of-13 (15.4 percent) from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Point Pleasant shot 15-of-39 (38.5 percent) from the field, including 6-of-15 (40 percent) from deep. From the free throw line, GAHS was 6-of-10 (60 percent) and PPHS was 3-of-8 (37.5 percent).
“They were much more aggressive and their strength just started to wear on us,” PPHS head coach Josh Williams said. “They’re a very strong, physical team. We stood a lot and didn’t keep the movement going. We didn’t read our keys, they were pressuring us — ball pressure and denying that first pass — and I felt like we missed a lot of back door opportunities.
“It doesn’t mean we would have scored, because you still have the gate keeper to deal with, but at least we would have been attacking the basket.”
The Blue Devils outrebounded their host by a 41-to-25 tally, including 21-to-6 on the offensive glass. Gallia Academy committed 11 turnovers, over half of which came in the fourth quarter, while the Big Blacks gave the ball away 24 times.
PPHS claimed a 4-to-3 edge in blocked shots, while GAHS earned a 14-to-7 advantage in steals. Both teams recorded 12 assists in the contest.
“I look back at last year when we averaged 18-or-19 turnovers a game, this year we’re down around 10-maybe-9,” Coach Harrison said. “We’ve really cut it in half and that’s why we’re being successful. It goes from the top to the bottom, they’re all doing a great job.”
The Blue Devils were led by Cory Call with 14 points and three assists, followed by Zach Loveday with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Caleb Henry had eight points, Logan Blouir recorded seven points and three assists, while Evan Wiseman finished with five points.
GAHS senior Kaden Thomas posted four points in the win, Gage Harrison and Justin McClelland added three each, while Bailey Walker and Ben Cox both scored two. Harrison and Call each made a triple for the guests.
The Blue Devil defense was paced by Call with four steals and Loveday with three rejections.
Point Pleasant’s offense was led by Kade Oliver with 11 points. Evan Cobb scored eight points, all in the fourth quarter, while Malik Butler posted seven points in the setback. Camron Long contributed six points to the Big Black cause, while Braxton Yates added five points and a team-best four assists.
“We had three good days to prepare, they practiced really well, everybody was in tune and I thought they came out and matched (Gallia Academy’s) energy really well,” Williams said of his team’s start. “They were hitting the boards and were focused on what we needed to do. I felt like we made some great decision and made a few shots to stay even with them.”
PPHS senior Trace Derenberger pulled in a team-best eight rebounds, six of which came before the half. Oliver and Hunter Bush led the PPHS defense with two steals apiece. Derenberger, Oliver, Butler and Aiden Sang each rejected a shot in the contest.
GAHS will resume Ohio Valley Conference play on Tuesday at South Point, where the Blue Devils will be looking for their fourth straight win.
“South Point has good guards and it’s going to be a good competition,” said Coach Harrison. “I like it because they’re quick and they have guards, but they don’t have any bigs. It’ll be an interesting contrast of styles.”
Point Pleasant will look to snap its four-game skid on Tuesday at River Valley.
“This one’s over with, we just have to focus on the next one coming up,” said Williams. “We’re going to take a step back and evaluate these last few games, and make some adjustments that might be better suited for this personnel. We’ll get a good game plan together, go over there and hopefully get our first win of the new year.”
The Blue Devils and Big Blacks will clash again on Feb. 17 in Centenary.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.