JACKSON, Ohio — Some things are simply worth the wait.
The Gallia Academy boys basketball team held sixth seeded Jackson without a field goal for the final 6:25 of regulation and used an 11-6 fourth quarter surge to secure its first district tournament win in 18 years with a thrilling 40-37 decision on Thursday night in a Division II Southeast 2 district semifinal matchup in the Apple City.
The 14th seeded Blue Devils (11-9) battled the host Ironmen (16-4) through six ties and 10 lead changes over the course of 32 minutes, and neither team led by more than five points throughout regulation.
In the end, however, the guests broke a 35-all tie with a pair of Isaac Clary free throws with 1:44 remaining and ultimately never relinquished that advantage.
GAHS — which last won a district tournament game in 2003 after defeating Jackson for the D-2 championship that season — now faces seventh seeded Unioto in the D-2 district final at 7 p.m. Saturday evening at Piketon High School. The Shermans (17-5) defeated second seeded Logan Elm by a 51-36 count in another D-2 district semifinal on Thursday night.
The Blue and White — who hadn’t won a boys basketball game at JHS since sweeping the Ironmen in Southeastern Ohio Athletic League play during the 2013-14 campaign — snapped a 4-game losing skid in district tournament play since appearing in the regional tournament back 2003.
The Blue Devils are one of two teams from the Ohio Valley Conference still playing in the postseason, with league champion Fairland also advancing on Thursday night in the D-3 tournament. Gallia Academy has also knocked out both co-champions of the Frontier Athletic Conference in as many outings.
And, as 8th-year GAHS coach Gary Harrison noted afterwards, those grueling OVC regular season contests provided his troops with just enough knowledge of how to pull out victories.
“These kids are young, but they’ve bought in … and it’s led to a heck of a run so far,” Harrison said. “We lost five games early in the regular season by three points or less, but now we are winning those close games. It’s the difference between where we started and where we are now as a team.
“The biggest thing is that our kids believe in one another right now. I also think it is a testament to our conference too. We play in a pretty good conference and we obviously learned some things from taking those close losses against quality teams earlier in the year. Now we are making free throws, making plays and winning close games. It’s a true sign of just how far this program has come in four months. We are dangerous right now because we simply believe.”
The Blue Devils needed almost four minutes to reach the scoring column after the Red and White built a 4-0 edge, and a Clary basket with 3:58 left allowed the guests to close to within 7-5.
A Boston Kuhn trifecta at the 2:34 mark of the first gave JHS its largest lead of the night at 10-5, but Clary answered with consecutive baskets the rest of the way and trimmed the deficit down to 10-9 through one period of play.
The Ironmen — after two successful 3-pointers in the opening frame — missed their final 10 trifectas tries and shot only 22 percent from the field the rest of the way. GAHS, on the other hand, reeled off six straight points out of the second quarter gate and built their largest lead at 15-10 following a Clary putback with 6:08 left in the half.
Jackson countered with an 8-2 surge over the next 5-plus minutes for an 18-17 edge, but a Noah Vanco basket with 29 seconds left allowed the Blue and White to take a slim 19-18 cushion into the break.
The third quarter was the most contested 8-minute section of the evening as both teams battled through five ties and as many lead changes, with neither squad leading by more than a single possession. Drew Bragg completed a 13-10 third quarter push and broke a 29-all tie with a basket with 1:32 left, giving the hosts a 31-29 lead headed into the finale.
Kenyon Franklin capped a 6-3 GAHS run with a pair of free throws at the 5:10 mark, and the guests never trailed again after taking a 35-34 edge.
Jackson — which went 1-of-11 from the field while missing its final nine shot attempts down the stretch — managed to knot things up at 35-all following a Bragg free throw with 3:59 remaining in regulation.
Clary converted both ends of a 1-and-1 with 1:44 left for a permanent lead of 37-35, then Cooper Davis added two free throws with 22.8 remaining for a 2-possession advantage.
Bragg converted two free throws with 5.8 seconds left to close the deficit down to 39-37, but Brody Fellure hit the first of two charity tosses a half-second later to push the edge back out to three points.
Bragg took the inbounds pass with 5.4 seconds remaining in regulation and dribbled to midcourt, but ultimately ran into one of his own players — which momentarily knocked the ball free. Bragg managed to recover and released a desperation heave from 35 feet, but the potential game-tying shot came up well short of the mark as the buzzer sounded.
Gallia Academy outrebounded the hosts by a 37-26 overall margin, including a 10-7 edge on the offensive glass. The guests also committed 16 of the 25 turnovers in the contest, with 11 of those miscues coming after the break.
The Blue Devils netted 15-of-43 field goal attempts for 35 percent, including a 2-of-13 effort from behind the arc for 15 percent. GAHS also sank 8-of-14 free throw attempts for 57 percent.
Clary led the guests with a double-double effort of 14 points and 11 rebounds, both of which were game-highs. Franklin and Fellure were next with eight points each, while Carson Call added six markers.
Davis and Vanco completed the winning mark with two points apiece. Davis followed Clary with eight caroms, with Call and Vanco each adding five boards for the victors.
Jackson made 10-of-41 shot attempts for 24 percent, including a 2-of-12 effort from 3-point territory for 17 percent. The hosts sank 15-of-25 charity tosses for 60 percent, but went only 11-of-19 at the line in the second half.
Bragg paced the Ironmen with 11 points, followed by Logan Miller with seven points and Kuhn with five markers. Holden Blankenship, Evan Spires and Braxton Hammond were next with four points each, while Nate Woodard completed the scoring with two points.
Spires led JHS with nine rebounds, with Tristan Prater adding another six boards. Bragg and Hammond also hauled in five caroms apiece in the setback.
Gallia Academy snapped a 2-game losing skid against Jackson and is now 4-3 overall against the Ironmen since the 2013-14 campaign.
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Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.