By Kevin Pierson, email@example.com
ATHENS — Waterford head coach Tom Simms had just one word to describe his team’s play during their sectional final with the South Gallia Rebels Tuesday night — “ugly.”
Fortunately for Simms and the Wildcats their ugly game was still good enough to propel them to a 46-41 win over the Rebels at Athens High School to claim back-to-back sectional titles.
The Wildcats began the contest looking about as dismal as a basketball team can, never leading the entire first half and trailing all but the first 47 seconds of the game before South Gallia’s Tyler Duncan hit a 3-pointer to open the game’s scoring.
“I give South Gallia credit. They wanted it. They were scrapping for it,” Simms said.
After Duncan’s trey opened the scoring the Rebels opened up a five point lead at 7-2 on Justin Shelton’s offensive rebound and putback.
Following Waterford senior Gary Tornes’ 3-pointer which cut the lead down to two, Shelton countered by connecting on a deuce off an assist from Duncan to give South Gallia an 11-7 lead after the first period of play.
The Rebels expanded their four-point lead after one quarter to eight at the break at 27-19 with a 16-12 advantage in the second quarter as it appeared the Wildcats were primed to suffer the same fate they gave to South Gallia a year ago when Waterford upset the-then No. 2 Rebels.
Down by eight at the break, the Wildcats came out of the locker rooms with a slightly different look, using new personnel and an aggressive press that quickly turned the game around along with more teamwork.
“The second half we just started playing as a team. The first half we weren’t playing as a team,” said Tornes, who recorded 11 points and four rebounds for the Wildcats.
“We just realized at halftime they were a team we could beat,” added towering center D.J. Cunningham, who pitched in a team-high 12 points and tied teammate Derek Hoge for the game- high of seven rebounds.
The new look and the pressure by the Wildcats in the third quarter turned their eight-point deficit into their first lead of the game at 30-29 when Hoge gathered an offensive rebound and putback at the 3:17 mark of the third.
Waterford’s inaugural lead was short lived however, as Micah Cardwell countered with one of his five treys for the Rebels to return the lead to South Gallia at 32-30.
That didn’t faze the Wildcats, though, who responded with back-to-back treys of their own, one by Tornes and the other by Alex Lang, just 31 seconds apart to give Waterford a 36-32 lead after three quarters of play.
“We started putting more pressure on defense,” Lang said of the second half turnaround.
Leading by four heading into the final period the Wildcats continued their defensive pressure and never allowed the Rebels to regain the lead, though twice they cut the lead to one and another time cut it to two.
Trailing just two points after another Cardwell trey at the 2:01 mark to close the gap to 40-38, the Rebels continued battling, exerting so much of themselves that senior John Wells actually became ill on the court, forcing play to be delayed approximately 15 minutes with 1:41 left in regulation.
After the lengthy delay the Rebels again closed the gap to one at 42-41 on another Cardwell 3-pointer.
Down by just a single point and with a chance to take the lead, Wells drove down the court and took a shot from just above the foul line that rattled out and fell into the awaiting arms of Cunningham, who was fouled and made both ends of a 1-and-1 bonus to give the Wildcats a three-point lead with 4.6 seconds left.
Lang tacked on two more free throws with 1.2 seconds left to set the final margin.
“We’re excited to get a sectional championship,” Simms said.
While they were happy to get the win, the Wildcats know they can’t have another off half like they did to start the game in the tournament.
“We better play a lot better. We’ve got to step up our game,” Hoge said.
Waterford 46, South Gallia 41
South Gallia 11 16 5 9 — 41
Waterford 7 12 17 10 — 46
SOUTH GALLIA (7-15)
John Wells 2-7 0-0 4; Micah Cardwell 6-13 0-0 17; Caleb McClanahan 1-3 0-0 2; Tyler Duncan 3-14 0-0 8; Vance Fellure 1-4 0-0 2; Justin Shelton 4-6 0-0 8; Corey Small 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS 17-47 0-0 41
Alex Lang 1-7 2-3 5; Cody Strahler 3-7 0-1 6; Brandon Roe 0-0 0-0 0; Derek Hoge 1-6 1-4 3; Brandon Hendershot 4-7 1-3 9; Gary Tornes 4-11 0-0 11; D.J. Cunningham 4-10 4-4 12. TOTALS 17-48 8-15 46
South Gallia: Shooting 17-47 (36 percent); 3pt shooting 7-20 (Cardwell 5, Duncan 2); Free throws 0-0; Rebounds 26 (Cardwell, Duncan 6); Assists 7 (Wells, Duncan 3); Steals 5 (Duncan 2); Turnovers 19
Waterford: Shooting 17-48 (35 percent); 3pt shooting 4-17 (Tornes 3, Lang 1); Free throws 8-15; Rebounds 30 (Hoge, Cunningham 7, Hendershot 6); Assists 10 (Lang 4, Hoge 2); Steals 10 (Cunningham 4, Lang 3); Turnovers 13; Blocks 3 (Cunningham 2, Hendershot 1)
Next game: District tournament, Waterford vs. Sciotoville (13-8) at Ohio University Convocation Center 8 p.m. Monday