ROCKSPRINGS, Ohio — The Rebels had the top seed on the ropes, but the Tomcats fought back with fury.
The ninth-seeded South Gallia boys basketball team led by four points at halftime, but Trimble outscored the Rebels 49-to-32 in the second half and came away with a 71-58 victory in the Division IV sectional final on Tuesday at Meigs High School.
After a pair of lead changes in the opening 5:30, the teams were tied at 10. South Gallia (7-17) closed the first quarter with 5-0 run and then outscored Trimble (17-5) by a 6-4 clip in the opening three minutes of the second quarter, making the Rebel lead 21-14.
The Tomcats rattled off six straight points, cutting the SGHS lead back to one point, at 21-20, with three minutes left in the half. The Rebels ended the half with a 5-to-2 run and a 26-22 lead.
Trimble scored eight of the first 10 points in the second half and took the lead, at 30-28, on a Randy Hixson three-pointer with 5:21 left in the third quarter.
The Tomcat lead grew to eight points, at 43-35, with 47 seconds left in the period. In the remainder of the quarter, the Rebels hit a pair of triples — including a contested 70-footer by Eli Ellis at the buzzer — to trim the THS lead to 43-41 headed into the fourth.
Both teams scored 12 points over the first four minutes of the finale, but Trimble turned its two-point advantage into a 15-point lead with a 13-0 run in the next three minutes. South Gallia scored five of the final eight points and fell by a 71-58 margin.
“I really don’t think it had anything to do with us, I thought we played a pretty good ball game,” said first-year SGHS head coach Kent Wolfe. “I just thought we lost to a better basketball team, they’re the No. 1 seed for a reason. I can’t fault these kids, there’s nothing that we really did that you can say we blew the game. I just think we got beat by a better team and we hung in there for three quarters and about four minutes.”
South Gallia and Trimble made 23 field goals apiece in the game, with the Rebels shooting 51 times for 45.1 percent, and the Tomcats shooting 49 times for 46.9 percent. From beyond the arc, SGHS shot 10-of-17 (58.8 percent) and THS shot 6-of-14 (42.9 percent), while the Rebels were 2-of-7 (28.6 percent) from the free throw line, where the Tomcats were 19-of-29 (65.5 percent).
After being outrebounded by three in the first half, the Tomcats came back to win the rebounding battle by a 31-to-25 count, which included a 9-to-7 edge on the offensive glass.
South Gallia picked up a 14-to-13 advantage in assists and claimed all-5 of the game’s blocked shots, while Trimble earned an 8-to-6 edge in steals. SGHS turned the ball over 17 times in the contest, while THS gave the ball away nine times.
“Let me tell you what we’ve been through,” said Wolfe. “We went to the preview, we had to play Athens, we got beat in the first quarter 33-to-nothing. We won one quarter in the preseason, then we lose a player on the day of the first game. We lose 55-30 and then 88-41. For us to be here today in the sectional final and give the No. 1 seed all they could handle to the very end, we’ve just come incredibly far. I can’t ask anything more from the kids I have.”
The Rebel offense was led by Braxton Hardy, who hit three triples en route to 17 points and a team-high four assists. Austin Stapleton also made three long balls and finished with 15 points, while Ellis made two from deep and wound up with 12 points and a team-best seven rebounds.
Curtis Haner had eight points, including six from three-point range, while Austin Day contributed three points and six rebounds to the Rebel cause. Bryce Nolan and Jaxxon Mabe rounded out the Rebel scoring with two points and one point respectively.
Stapleton led the SGHS defense with four steals, while Ellis and Haner both blocked two shots.
For Trimble, Hixson — who had just four points in the first half — finished with 38 points on five three-pointers, five two-pointers and a 13-of-14 performance from the free throw line.
“We forgot where Hixson was at times,” Wolfe said. “Coach (Howie) Caldwell did a nice job, we were used to things then he changed a few screens, we were looking to switch it, Hixson stayed and sort of got lost. Great players do great things at great times and that’s why he’s the player that he is.”
Brayden Weber had 13 points and a team-best three steals for the Tomcats, while Cameron Kittle had seven points and seven rebounds.
Max Hooper recorded six points to go with game-highs of 11 rebounds and seven assists, while Bryce Richards scored four points in the win. The THS scoring column was capped off by Sawyer Koons with two points and Sam Ives with one.
The Tomcats also defeated SGHS twice in the regular season, winning 63-58 on Feb. 5 in Mercerville and 72-52 on Feb. 13 in Glouster.
South Gallia must now say farewell to seniors Curtis Haner and Austin Stapleton.
“We have two seniors who have sacrificed some things for the common good of the program,” said Wolfe. “They were not fire and brimstone, get in your face leaders, they led by example and they led in a quiet way, but when they talked everybody listened. We’re going to miss them a lot.”
The Tomcats advance to the district semifinal on Sunday at Ohio University where they’ll be met by fifth-seeded Green.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.