ROCKSPRINGS, Ohio — One down, one to go for another trip to the Convo.
The South Gallia boys basketball team shot 54 percent from the field while picking up a tournament victory for the third consecutive postseason following a 68-53 decision over Ironton Saint Joseph in a Division IV sectional semifinal matchup Tuesday night at Larry R. Morrison Gymnasium on the campus of Meigs High School.
The ninth-seeded Rebels (7-16) battled through four ties and six lead changes in the opening 11 minutes of regulation, but a Kody Lambert field goal allowed SGHS to break a 20-all tie and secure a permanent lead at 22-20 with 4:21 remaining before halftime.
The eighth-seeded Flyers (6-16) stayed within a possession (26-23) at the break, but SGHS netted 8-of-10 field goals to start the third period — allowing the guests to secure a 47-37 edge headed into the finale.
The Rebels — who hit 15-of-23 shot attempts in the second half — led by as many as 22 points midway through the last canto, and ISJHS never came closer than 64-51 with 1:17 left in regulation.
South Gallia — which also beat Ironton St. Joe last year in the sectional tournament — picked up its first two-game winning streak of the season. More importantly, the Rebels have also earned another chance to play basketball this winter.
SGHS will face top-seeded Pike Eastern in a D-4 sectional final at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27, at Meigs High School. It will also be a rematch of last year’s D-4 district championship game at the Convocation Center.
It was the first postseason victory for first-year SGHS coach Larry Howell, who inherited one letter-winner from last year to go along with a blend of five seniors and several underclassmen.
The Rebels played with patience and valued possessions, which is why the program is now one win away from its third straight sectional title.
“It’s a big win for us, and I am just so happy for the kids right now. These kids have worked hard, and for us to get a tournament win as young as we are is a real stepping stone for us,” Howell said afterwards. “We executed our offense, we didn’t have a lot of turnovers and we got good looks at the basket. It was about as well as we have played all year, and this is the right time for it.
“We know we’ll really have our hands full in the next one against (Pike) Eastern, but we’ve battled all year to get where we are right now. I know that these kids will be ready to battle and that’s all I can really ask of them at this point. I’m proud as hell of them.”
There were two ties and four lead changes in the opening period, with St. Joe claiming its only lead of the first canto at 3-2 with 4:54 remaining. SGHS answered with a 3-2 run to force a 5-all tie with 4:29 left, then the Rebels made a 9-2 surge over the next 2:23 to secure a 14-7 edge.
Ironton Saint Joseph snapped a 2:35 scoreless drought with a field goal just 16 seconds away from the end of the first quarter, allowing the hosts to enter the second canto trailing by a 14-9 margin.
Kody Lambert hit a trifecta 12 seconds into the start the second period, allowing SGHS to take its biggest lead of the first half at 17-9. The Flyers, however, responded with a 9-0 charge — capped by a pair of Justin Mahlmeister free throws — that gave the hosts their final lead of the night at 18-17 with 5:50 left in the half.
Both teams found themselves tied at 18-all and 20-all, then Lambert hit a short jumper to give the Rebels a 22-20 edge. St. Joe twice pulled to within a point before the break, but South Gallia made a small 4-3 spurt over the final four minutes to secure a 26-23 lead at the intermission.
SGHS was 10-of-23 from the field for 43 percent in the opening 16 minutes, while the Flyers sank 7-of-25 shot attempts for 28 percent during that same span. Both teams also committed seven turnovers before halftime.
South Gallia opened the second half with a 10-2 surge over two-and-a-half minutes, giving the guests their first double-digit lead of the night. Landon Hutchinson capped that run after converting an old-fashioned three-point play at the 5:32 mark for a 36-25 cushion.
ISJHS managed to trim its deficit down to 41-35 after Justin Mahlmesiter converted an old-fashioned three-pointer with 3:33 left in the canto. The Flyers were never closer the rest of the night, as South Gallia closed the third on a 6-2 run to secure a 47-37 lead headed into the finale.
The Rebels took their biggest lead of the night with 3:57 left in regulation after a Hutchinson field goal made it a 62-40 contest. St. Joe closed the final 3:42 of play on a 13-6 charge, but never came closer than five possessions down the stretch.
South Gallia connected on 25-of-46 field goal attempts overall, including a 5-of-11 effort from three-point range for 45 percent. SGHS committed 15 turnovers and also went 13-of-15 at the free throw line for 87 percent.
Brayden Greer led the Rebels with a game-high 24 points, followed by Kody Lambert with 15 points and Landon Hutchinson with 12 markers. Ethan Swain contributed 10 points to the winning cause, while Gus Slone and Michael Wheeler respectively rounded out the winning tally with four and three markers.
The Flyers made 18-of-54 shot attempts for 33 percent, including a 4-of-19 effort from behind the arc for 21 percent. St. Joe committed 18 turnovers and also went 13-of-22 at the charity stripe for 59 percent.
Justin Mahlmeister paced ISJHS with 21 points, followed by Eli Lewis with eight points and Chris Lewis with six markers. Joseph Payton added five points to the setback, while Hunter Pemberton and Troy Scott each contributed four markers.