CENTENARY, Ohio — The Dragons had to work for this one.
Fairland clinched a share of its third straight Ohio Valley Conference boys basketball title on Tuesday night in Gallia County, but it was far from easy as the Dragons defeated host Gallia Academy by the narrowest of margins, 60-59.
The Blue Devils (15-3, 9-3 OVC) led 2-0, but only scored two more point in the opening quarter. Fairland (17-3, 12-0) — the No. 6 ranked team in the latest Division II AP Poll — took the advantage on a three-pointer with 6:06 left in the opening quarter and led for the remainder of the half, jumping out to a 14-4 lead eight minutes into play.
The Blue Devils cut their deficit as low as seven in the second quarter, but were outscored 22-to-17 in the period and trailed 36-21 at halftime.
The guests opened the second half with a trifecta, extending their lead to a game-high 18 points, at 39-21. However, GAHS cut its deficit in half by the end of the third, outscoring FHS by a 16-to-7 count to make the Dragon lead 46-37 with eight minutes to play.
Gallia Academy scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter, trimming the deficit to one point, at 46-45. However, Fairland forced a pair of turnovers and extended the lead to back to four points by the midway point of the quarter.
After a Zach Loveday two-pointer and a Fairland turnover, Evan Wiseman gave the Blue Devils their first lead of the second half, at 50-49, with a three-pointer at the 3:30 mark.
Fairland regained the lead with a pair of free throws eight seconds later, but GAHS scored the next five points and led 55-51 with 1:40 to play.
A Ty Staten three-pointer made it a one-point game with 1:20 left, but Cory Call hit a two-pointer to stretch the GAHS lead back to three-points, at 57-54, with 52 seconds remaining.
FHS senior Luke Thomas tied the game at 57 with a three-pointer 19 seconds later, but GAHS junior Justin McClelland made two free throws with 26 seconds left, giving the Blue Devils a 59-57 advantage.
With 14 seconds to go in the game, Luke Thomas nailed another long ball, giving the Dragons a 60-59 lead. The Blue Devils’ last-ditch three-point attempt missed and the Green and White escaped with the one-point win.
“We were down 15 at halftime, I told the kids ‘let’s cut it to single digits,’ and in that third quarter we did,” GAHS head coach Gary Harrison said. “Then in the fourth quarter, we just played. I felt like they were tired and we were still going. (Luke Thomas) hit two threes against us in the end, they were NBA threes and they were contested. Hats’ off to him, he made them. Our kids played hard, I can’t fault them for anything. It’s probably one of the best games we’ve played.”
Although the Dragons were able to claim the season series over GAHS, the Blue Devils were 46 points better than they were in the first meeting on Dec. 19, which Fairland won 97-50 in Proctorville.
“It shows you how much we’ve improved,” Coach Harrison said. “I think now we’re going to get respect going into the tournament. We’re going to be hard to deal with and I think teams are going to know that. I hate to lose, but they’re good and we’re getting there. We’re hoping maybe one day we’ll have a rematch with them in the tournament.”
On Tuesday, the Blue Devils shot 19-of-39 (48.7 percent) from the field, including 7-of-13 (53.8 percent) from three-point range. Meanwhile, the Dragons shot 20-of-51 (39.2 percent) from the field, including 12-of-26 (46.2 percent) from beyond the arc.
Both teams attempted 18 free throws, with Gallia Academy making 14 for 77.8 percent and Fairland sinking eight for 44.4 percent.
GAHS claimed a 30-to-27 advantage in rebounding, despite FHS winning the offensive glass by an 11-to-6 clip. The Blue Devils also held a 4-to-2 edge in blocked shots, but Fairland picked up advantages of 16-to-15 in assists and 13-to-4 in steals. The Blue and White turned the ball over 18 times in the game, while the Dragons committed 10 turnovers.
Wiseman pulled in seven rebounds, hit three trifectas and finished with a team-high 18 points, 16 of which came in the second half. Loveday and Kaden Thomas both scored 11 points, with Loveday grabbing a game-best nine rebounds and Thomas making a trio of three-pointers.
McClelland had 10 points, including three from beyond the arc, while Call and Logan Blouir rounded out the team total with six and three points respectively.
Call and Thomas tied for a team-high with four assists apiece, followed by Wiseman and Caleb Henry with three each. Call led the Blue Devil defense with two steals, while Loveday and Wiseman both blocked two shots.
FHS senior Isaiah Howell hit a trio of long balls and finished with a team-best 18 points, while Luke Thomas made four three-pointers and came in with 13 points, to go with six rebounds. Kollin VanHorn had 12 points in the win, and Keedrick Cunningham added 10, with both players hitting a pair of three-pointers.
Staten marked five points and a game-best five assists, while Ty Wilcoxen rounded out the winning total with two points, to go with a team-high seven rebounds.
Staten and Thomas both picked up four steals for the Dragon defense, while VanHorn blocked a pair of shots.
Gallia Academy is back in action on Friday at Portsmouth, in the final game before the postseason draw.
“We don’t get any breaks,” Coach Harrison said. “We have to go to Portsmouth and then we have two of our final three games at home. We just want to finish strong. I think this is an eye opener for us and our community, we had a chance to beat them.”
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.