CENTENARY, Ohio — Free throws can be your worst enemy or your best friend. It just depends on when they find the bottom of the net.
Senior Logan Blouir capped a career-high evening by hitting two free throws with 6.9 seconds left in regulation, allowing the Gallia Academy boys basketball team to hold on and claim a 58-54 victory over visiting River Valley on Friday night during a non-conference matchup between Gallia County programs.
The Blue Devils (2-3) led the final 16:31 of regulation and held 9-point leads on three different occasions in the third stanza, but the hosts started having struggles at the charity stripe — and that provided the Raiders (2-5) a window of opportunity.
Leading 47-42 entering the finale, the Blue and White missed eight of their first 11 free throw attempts as RVHS rallied back to within a point at 55-54 with 24 seconds remaining.
Blouir converted the first of two freebies with 23.1 ticks left, but then the Blue Devils failed to convert two chances at the stripe with 10.8 seconds left.
Brandon Call hauled in the rebound for River Valley on the ensuing free throw miss, but had the ball stolen away by Reece Thomas. Thomas then found Blouir underneath with a pass, which led to a foul with just under seven seconds left in regulation.
Blouir calmly netted both shots at the stripe for a 2-possession cushion, which ultimately held up over the rest of the contest.
Overall, Gallia Academy was just 5-of-13 at the free throw line and committed five turnovers in the fourth quarter. The Silver and Black fared slightly worse during their second half surge, netting 1-of-3 attempts in the fourth and 3-of-9 tries after the break.
The game featured two ties and a dozen lead changes in the first half, with the Raiders actually holding the only 2-possession lead in the opening 16 minutes. It was also 17-all through eight minutes of play.
GAHS, however, ended up having a pretty hot hand by half’s end after netting 14-of-22 shot attempts from the field — including a 4-of-9 performance from behind the arc.
River Valley, conversely, was 11-of-23 from the floor — including 4-of-10 from behind the arc — entering the intermission.
Damon Cremeens converted an offensive rebound and putback with 31 seconds left in the half for a permanent lead of 30-29, then Isaac Clary added a basket with nine ticks left that allowed the hosts to take a 3-point edge into the break.
Blouir completed a 9-5 third quarter run with a basket at the 3:15 mark, giving GAHS a 43-34 edge. The Blue Devils also led 45-36 and 47-38 before the Raiders ended the period with four unanswered points.
Jordan Lambert converted an offensive putback with 6:35 remaining to close the gap down to 47-46, but Gallia Academy responded with a 6-1 run over the next 2:39 to again lead by six points at 53-47.
The Silver and Black closed back to within 53-52 and were again within a point following a Chase Caldwell steal and layup with 23 seconds remaining, making it a 55-54 contest.
On a night in which the Blue Devils notched their seventh consecutive win over their county rivals, GAHS coach Gary Harrison was relieved to get out of such a hard-fought battle on a winning note.
As the seventh year front man mentioned, his relatively young squad showed some real signs of growth on this last night of fall.
“We knew that this one was going to be a dog-fight down to the end. It was competitive and both crowds were really into it, and it turned this game into something a little more meaningful for everyone,” Harrison said. “For us, this game came down to free throws at the end … and we got the two we needed most when we had to have them. It’s been a growing experience for this group every night, but we really took a step forward tonight. I feel like we turned a little bit of a corner tonight because we did just enough to get out of here with this win.”
RVHS coach Brett Bostic noted that the outcome was difficult to stomach in some ways, mainly because his kids were withing striking distance down the stretch.
Then again, after losing both contests by an average margin of 21.5 points a year ago — the second year mentor was pleased with just how far his troops have come in a short span of time.
“The effort was there. We cannot complain in any way about the effort that our kids gave us tonight. This game came down to the little things. A rebound here, a made shot there or a timely turnover, we just never really seemed to catch that break,” Bostic said. “It’s frustrating because we had a chance late, but it’s also a sign of how far we’ve come after getting beat pretty handily last year. It’s a big rivalry game with a big crowd and a lot of emotion, and we were right there until the very end. That’s all you can really ask of your kids on any night.”
Gallia Academy outrebounded the guests by a 28-19 overall margin, including a 9-6 edge on the offensive glass. The hosts also committed 18 of the 28 turnovers in the contest.
The Blue Devils netted 23-of-45 field goal attempts for 51 percent, which included a 4-of-15 effort from behind the arc for 27 percent. The Blue and White also made 8-of-18 free throw attempts for 44 percent.
Blouir paced GAHS with a game-high 33 points, followed by Clary with 12 points and Cremeens with six markers. Reece Thomas was next with five points, while Devin Lee completed the winning tally with two points.
Cremeens hauled in a team-best nine rebounds, with Blouir and Clary respectively grabbing seven and six caroms.
The Raiders made 21-of-49 shot attempts for 43 percent, including a 6-of-20 effort from 3-point range for 30 percent. The guests also sank 6-of-13 charity tosses for 46 percent.
Lambert led River Valley with 18 points, followed by Caldwell with 13 points and a team-high five rebounds. Mason Rhodes was next with seven markers, while Dylan Fulks and Cole Young added six points each.
Brandon Call completed things with four points. Call and Lambert also grabbed four boards apiece.
Gallia Academy was at Warren on Saturday and returns to action Friday when it hosts Ironton in an Ohio Valley Conference tilt at 7 p.m.
River Valley heads back to the hardwood on Friday when it hosts Point Pleasant at 7 p.m.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.