LONDONDERRY, Ohio — Finishing off one old rival to get to another.
The Gallia Academy boys basketball team had four players reach double figures and forced 15 turnovers through thee quarters of play Tuesday night during a resounding 62-35 victory over 10th-seeded River Valley in a Division II sectional semifinal contest at Larry Jordan Gymnasium inside Southeastern High School.
The seventh-seeded Blue Devils (15-8) trailed for all of 55 seconds in regulation and needed 2:05 to secure a permanent lead, but the hosts also used an intense defensive approach in the opening frame to turn an early 2-0 deficit into a commanding 12-point cushion through eight minutes of play.
The visiting Raiders (3-20) were never within double digits the rest of the way as the Blue and White gradually increased their cushion out to 32-19 and 47-30 over the next two periods, then twice led by as many as 29 points down the stretch before ultimately wrapping up the 27-point decision.
The Blue Devils — who twice knocked off their Gallia County counterparts in a pair of non-conference matchups during the regular season — advance to the D-2 sectional final on Saturday when they face second-seeded Jackson. Tipoff at Southeastern High School is tentatively slated for 3 p.m.
Gallia Academy shot 46 percent from the field and had seven different players reach the scoring column while also forcing 18 Raider turnovers. The hosts committed only seven miscues and claimed a 31-18 edge on the boards, which included a 9-1 advantage on the offensive glass.
On top of that, the Gallia Academy seniors also accounted for all but 14 points in the triumph — compared to only 11 markers from River Valley’s quartet of upperclassmen.
Afterward, GAHS coach Gary Harrison was pleased with both the effort and the outcome, plus noted that his squad’s experience showed itself early … and often.
He would have just preferred not to face his former assistant in the opening round of the postseason.
“Tonight was all about our senior leadership. Justin McClelland couldn’t miss a shot in the first half, then Cory Call couldn’t miss in the second half. Everyone was aggressive on defense and we ended up with four kids in double figures, and we’re going to be really hard to beat when we are doing those kind of things,” Harrison said. “It’s hard to play a team three times and I didn’t really want to face Coach Bostic because he’s done a really good job with that program this year. Each time we’ve played them, they’ve been better. They have some better days ahead of them.”
The Raiders did little more than struggle after a Layne Fitch steal and layup gave the guests their only lead of the game 15 seconds into regulation.
Blaine Carter tied the game at two with a pair of free throws, then Cory Call gave the Blue and White a permanent lead with a basket at the 5:55 mark of the first.
River Valley ended up committing turnovers on six of their 11 first quarter possessions while also making only two shot attempts, allowing GAHS to surge out to a 17-5 advantage.
Jordan Lambert hit a short jumper 23 seconds into the second frame to whittle the deficit down to 10 points, but the Blue Devils countered with nine points from Justin McClelland as part of an 11-2 charge that resulted in a 28-9 lead with 5:03 remaining in the half.
The Silver and Black ended up hitting 6-of-12 shot attempts in the canto and ultimately closed the final 4:50 with a 10-4 run that trimmed the deficit down to 32-19 entering the break.
Gallia Academy was plus-3 in turnover differential (7-4) and also held a sizable 17-7 edge in rebounds after 16 minutes of play. Most impressively, GAHS claimed an 8-1 advantage on the offensive glass during that span — which led to an additional 10 shot attempts.
The Raiders came as close as 11 points (33-22) with 6:26 left in the third and were down 43-30 after a Lambert basket at the 2:23 mark, but the guests ultimately went scoreless the rest of the way and committed eight turnovers in the stanza.
GAHS — who received 10 points from Call in the third frame — closed the final 1:42 with four consecutive points to secure a 47-30 advantage headed into the finale.
The Raiders — who had made 12-of-24 shot attempts through three periods — went without a field goal for over seven minutes down the stretch as Carter capped a 13-1 charge with a basket at the 3:18 mark for a 60-31 cushion.
Braden Kemper ended a 0-for-7 shooting drought with 34 seconds remaining after a Braden Kemper basket sparked a 4-2 run to close out regulation.
By night’s end, RVHS coach Brett Bostic was disappointed to have to say goodbye to seniors Layne Fitch, Rory Twyman, Myles Morrison and Austin Beaver after the quartet provided such vital leadership this winter.
The first-year frontman also noted that the Blue Devils are a prime example of where he wants his program to be in the not-too-distant future.
“We did some things early on that we talked about trying to avoid, but we settled down a bit in the second quarter and did a better job. We competed from there, but we just couldn’t catch up,” Bostic said. “We played well in spots of the game and there were some tough spots too, but that comes down to maturity as a group. That Gallipolis group has a bunch of seniors that have played in two or three sectional finals in their careers, so they are familiar with this type of atmosphere.
“Our seniors have played for three coaches in four years, and those four seniors have been very understanding and important to what we were trying to get accomplished this year. It wasn’t necessarily all about the wins and losses, but we wanted to build a competitive culture that leads to a better basketball program. I think we have done that and we have more work to do, but those four seniors will be a big part of our future success for what they’ve given us this year.”
Gallia Academy netted 25-of-54 field goal attempts overall, including a 4-of-11 effort from behind the arc for 36 percent. The hosts were also 8-of-10 at the free throw line for 80 percent.
Call led GAHS with a game-high 17 points, followed by McClelland with 14 points. Carter and Logan Blouir were next with 12 markers apiece, while Bailey Walker added three points. Caleb Henry and Cooper Davis completed the winning tally with two points each.
Blouir ended up earning a double-double after hauling in a team-high 10 rebounds, following by Call with six boards and Carter with four caroms. Henry also grabbed three rebounds for the Blue Devils.
RVHS made 14-of-33 shot attempts for 42 percent, including a 4-of-16 effort from 3-point territory for 25 percent. The guests were also 3-of-12 at the charity stripe for 25 percent.
Lambert paced the Raiders with 14 points, followed by Fitch with six points. Morrison, Cole Young and Brandon Call were next with three markers each, while Beaver, Kemper and Chase Caldwell completed the tally with two points apiece.
Lambert, Fitch, Twyman and Call each grabbed three rebounds to lead RVHS.
Jackson enters Saturday in the midst of a 16-year sectional title drought since the program last appeared in the district championship game back in 2003.
Ironically, the Blue Devils ended up defeating the Ironmen 39-26 in that district final en route to advancing to the D-2 regional tournament 16 years ago.
Outside of the old Southeastern Ohio Athletic League days and a handful of non-conference matchups more recently, Gallia Academy has faced JHS only one other time in the postseason since the 2002-03 campaign.
The Blue and White also defeated Jackson by a 55-45 count in a D-2 sectional semifinal back in 2015.
Harrison admits that this upcoming Ironmen team is talented, but he also feels that his troops enter the weekend with a little bit of a chip on their shoulders. And, as he put it, you cannot get to the Convo without first reaching the sectional final.
“Our kids are hungry. We were voted a seven seed … and we’re kind of mad about that,” Harrison said. “Saturday, we get to play for a second straight sectional championship. This time of year, the opportunity is all you can really ask for.”
River Valley completed its regular season winless in a dozen Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division contests.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.