MERCERVILLE, Ohio — It’s never over until it’s over.
The South Gallia boys basketball team let an 18-point third quarter slip away, but ultimately broke away from a 51-all tie with five unanswered free throws in the final minute to claim a hard-fought 56-51 victory over visiting Southern on Tuesday night in a Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division matchup in Gallia County.
The Rebels (5-1, 3-1 TVC Hocking) never trailed after the 1:06 mark of the first quarter as the hosts built an early 18-14 lead, then made an impressive 19-8 charge in the second period while extending their cushion out to 37-32 at the break.
The Red and Gold — behind 3-pointers from Jaxxin Mabe and Layne Ours — made a 7-3 run out of the halftime gates and ultimately secured the largest lead of the game at 43-25 with 5:40 left in the third.
And then, as the game appeared to be getting out of reach … the Tornadoes made one furious charge to get right back in it.
SHS (3-4, 2-1) ended the final 5:29 of the third canto with a small 7-4 run to close to within 47-32, then limited the hosts to just 1-of-9 shooting while forcing seven turnovers down the stretch — allowing the Purple and Gold to make one final push at a comeback.
Southern hit four of its first six shot attempts during a pivotal 18-3 charge that turned a 15-point deficit into a tie ball game with 2:14 remaining.
Both teams traded a single free throw for a 51-all contest with 1:02 left, but Southern was never closer the rest of the way.
Ours made the first of two free throw attempts with 59.8 seconds left for a permanent lead, then added another freebie with 36.8 seconds remaining for a 53-51 edge.
Southern had a contested layup attempt roll completely around and out of the rim with 15 seconds left, and the rebound was hauled in Jared Burdette. Burdette was fouled and canned both free throws with 13.4 ticks remaining for a 2-possession lead of 55-51.
Burdette added the back end of two charity tosses with 3.4 seconds left, wrapping up the eventual 5-point outcome.
Both teams ended up shooting 35 percent from the field, but the difference ultimately came down to 3-point shooting and free throw shooting.
The Rebels netted 10-of-25 trifecta attempts and also went 10-of-14 at the line for 71 percent, while the guests made 4-of-21 3-point tries while sinking 15-of-27 charity tosses for 56 percent.
South Gallia made only three of its final 15 shot attempts in regulation, but also went 6-of-10 at the line in the fourth quarter. SHS, conversely, went 7-of-11 at the stripe in the finale, but also missed at least two freebie opportunities in each period.
After a roller-coaster evening of emotions, SGHS coach Kent Wolfe was very thankful to be leaving the friendly confines with a victory — even if it didn’t end as promising as it started.
As the third year mentor noted, it’s all part of the learning curve for a still relatively young group of hoopsters.
“We still have some inexperienced players out there and we reached a point there in the fourth quarter that we just didn’t want the ball. We got nervous and we didn’t play with any kind of comfort level, and you have to give Southern a lot of credit for that,” Wolfe said. “We knew Southern was going to come out and throw their punch, and that came in the fourth quarter. We didn’t necessarily handle that situation well, but give our kids credit because we found a way to win this game.
“We need to do a better of job of taking care of the ball in late-game situations, but the kids still did enough down the stretch to get out of here with a win. We are very pleased to be 5-1 right now, but we still have a lot of things to improve on.”
Conversely, SHS coach Jeff Caldwell was pleased with how his troops didn’t quit when adversity hit. The 12th year mentor noted, however, that when you dig a large hole, it leaves very little room to miss opportunities when they present themselves.
“I know we have a pretty good team here. It’s tough when you get in the hole we were in tonight, but our kids showed a lot of guts and kept playing hard until the very end. We had it tied up with two minutes to go, but we never could catch that big break from there,” Caldwell said. “I thought our defense was really giving them fits there in the fourth, but I also wish we would have been a little smarter on the defensive end. We gave up a few fouls that we didn’t need to, and that ended up putting them on the line a little sooner than we needed to.
“Give credit to South Gallia though because they have a good ball team over there. As I said though, I think we have a pretty good ball club too. We’ll learn from this one and keep working on getting better. We’ll just pick up the pieces and start focusing on Federal Hocking this Friday.”
There were three ties and five lead changes over the course of the opening eight minutes, with Southern’s largest lead coming at 8-5 with 5:26 left in the first frame.
SGHS, on the other hand, never trailed again after an Ours basket with 1:06 remaining gave the hosts a 16-14 edge.
The Rebels — who hit seven trifectas in the first half — made a 12-4 charge over the opening 5:25 of the second stanza, allowing the hosts to take their first double-digit lead at 30-18.
Cole Steele’s bucket with 1:41 left in the half cut the deficit down to 33-22, but things took an interesting turn roughly a minute later.
As South Gallia attempted to inbound the ball from underneath the SHS baseline, a Southern player made contact with the Rebel player attempting to get the ball inbounded.
Because of the contact, the Tornadoes were whistled for an intentional foul — sending Brayden Hammond to the free throw line with 33 seconds left in the half.
Hammond nailed both free throws, then took over possession. Tristan Saber was later fouled and made both charity tosses with 26.1 seconds remaining, giving the Red and Gold a sizable 37-22 advantage entering the intermission.
South Gallia outrebounded the guests by a 34-27 overall margin, including a 10-7 edge on the offensive glass. The hosts committed 17 of the 32 turnovers in the game, but also had a dozen turnovers after the break. SHS, conversely, had eight giveaways after halftime.
Mabe paced South Gallia — which went 18-of-52 from the field — with 15 points, followed by Burdette with 11 points and Saber with nine markers. Hammond was next with eight points, with Ours adding six points to go along with a game-high 13 rebounds.
Kyle Northup and Andrew Small completed the winning tally with five and two points respectively. Northup and Hammond also hauled in six rebounds each.
Steele led Southern — which netted 16-of-46 field goal attempts — with a game-high 18 points, followed by Arrow Drummer with 16 points and Landen Hill with nine markers. Coltin Parker and Chase Bailey completed the scoring with respective efforts of six and two points.
Drummer and Hill also grabbed seven rebounds apiece in the setback.
Southern returns to action Friday as it travels to Stewart to face Federal Hocking in a TVC Hocking contest at 6 p.m.
South Gallia next plays on Saturday, Dec. 28, when it heads to Willow Wood for a non-conference matchup with Symmes Valley at 6 p.m.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.