Prep boys basketball: Waterford defeats Belpre

WATERFORD – For three quarters of basketball the Belpre Golden Eagles were everything the Waterford Wildcats wanted and then some.

But after playing 120 minutes of basketball in four days, the Eagles just didn’t have much left for the final eight.

Waterford outscored Belpre 21-12 in the final stanza to transform a miniscule 36-35 lead after three quarters of play into a 57-47 victory over Belpre at Waterford Elementary Friday night. In the final quarter, the Wildcats tallied nearly as many points with 21 as they did in the first three quarters combined and outpaced their second and third quarter output by eight.

“We got going, and then it was ‘Let’s coast a little bit.’ When we coasted, when we sat back, they took off,” said Waterford boys’ basketball coach Tom Simms.

On multiple occasions throughout the game the Wildcats would build leads of at least nine points.

And every time, save for the end of the game, the Golden Eagles found a way to will themselves back into the contest despite playing four games in four nights and seven games in nine days.

“They competed,” said Belpre boys’ basketball coach Jordan Thornhill. “I thought they played as hard as they could tonight. At the end, we just didn’t have the legs.”

The Wildcats may have grounded the Eagles in the final period, but the first three were a battle from start to finish.

Waterford opened the game by hitting its first two shots, a pair of three-pointers, only to watch the Eagles tie it at 6-6 on a basket from Nick Therriault. The margin would expand out to nine points on another three from Trystan Crawford off an assist from Cody Paxton for the Wildcats as Waterford led 19-10 with 1:21 in the opening stanza.

But as would happen throughout the night, the Eagles narrowed that gap down to a single bucket as Therriault scored with nine seconds in the period.

Rather than settle for a two point lead after one, the Wildcats expanded the margin on Eli Strahler’s three-pointer as time expired for a 22-17 advantage after the first period of play.

Those 22 points would be more than Waterford would score in the second and third quarters combined, and the Golden Eagles capitalized to close to within two points, 29-27, at the break thanks to strong post play from Therriault, who had 13 points and nine rebounds at the break.

“We were doing okay, and then we relaxed and Nick took over,” Simms said.

Therriault’s performance came on the heels of a 30-point performance on Thursday, and that followed a 36-point effort on Wednesday for the Golden Eagles.

Unfortunately for Belpre, after his basket tied the game at 34-34 with 2:58 to play in the third quarter Therriault would not score again against the Waterford defense.

“Of the 128 minutes (in four games) he’s probably played 120 of them,” Thornhill said. “He just ran out of gas.”

Belpre claimed its first and only lead of the game with 1:50 to play in the third quarter when Ethan Williams hit 1-of-2 free throws to make the score 35-34 in favor of the Golden Eagles.

“We had opportunities to gain a little bit of a lead. This game, five points seems like a big lead because it was so close,” Thornhill said.

That lead would last just 57 seconds as Waterford took the lead for good when Wyatt Porter hit a short jumper off Strahler’s assist for a 36-35 Wildcat lead after three quarters of play.

Waterford held off Belpre’s early fourth quarter push as Crawford hit a pair of free throws following Sam Petty’s basket to expand the lead out to three, and Belpre would never get any closer the rest of the way.

Over the course of the final five minutes, the Golden Eagles would trail by at least six as Waterford made the clutch plays, particularly down the stretch as Belpre fouled to try and keep the Wildcats from running the clock.

At the line for a 1-and-the bonus, Mitch Ginther missed the shot as the Wildcats led by just six but collected his own rebound and put it back to halt Belpre’s effort at the comeback down the stretch.

The Wildcats would hit 4-of-6 free throws in the final 1:05 of regulation to preserve the 10-point victory.

“We were very fortunate and truly blessed in this situation tonight,” Simms said.

Belpre fell to 10-12 on the season, 9-7 in the Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division, and will open tournament play against Fairland on Monday at 5 p.m. in Jackson.

With the win Waterford improves to 13-6 on the season, including 11-3 in the TVC Hocking as they look to claim the league crown.

Tournament play for the Wildcats begins Feb. 25 against Trimble.

“We’re trying to get better. We’re not happy with where we’re at,” Simms said.