BIDWELL, Ohio — At the last minute, the Lady Raiders appeared to be throwing a massive wrench into the Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division girls basketball championship chase.
Unfortunately for River Valley, it couldn’t tighten its defense against the Nelsonville-York Buckeyes.
As a result, the visiting Lady Buckeyes pulled away in the second half, and handed the Lady Raiders a hard-fought 67-55 loss on Thursday night.
With the defeat, River Valley concluded its regular season at 10-12 — and 4-8 in the TVC-Ohio.
Thursday also marked Senior Night at RVHS, as a quartet of Lady Raiders — Courtney Smith, Shelby Brown, Tianna Qualls and Leia Moore — were honored before the game.
Nelsonville-York, meanwhile, was one of three TVC-Ohio teams to officially share the league championship.
The Buckeyes, along with Alexander and Vinton County, all finished at 10-2 to become tri-champs.
For N-Y, it is the program’s first league championship since 2005.
Nelsonville-York is now 14-6, but had to work for its share of the championship — unlike Vinton County and Alexander.
Also on Thursday night, Vinton County captured an easy 50-24 win over Athens, while Alexander overwhelmed Wellston 69-31.
In fact, the Lady Raiders led 31-29 with three minutes and 15 seconds remaining before halftime, and trailed only 37-36 with six minutes and 50 seconds to play in the third quarter.
But by outscoring River Valley 19-9 in that stanza, the Buckeyes eventually built their lead to 54-41 following three quarters — before the lead soon swelled to 64-50 with only 1:26 to go.
For the game’s final 13 minutes and 50 seconds, the Raiders were never within a single point.
In fact, their smallest deficit in the final 12:05 was 47-41 at the four-minute mark of the third — when Qualls completed an old-fashioned three-point play.
River Valley coach Sarah Evans-Moore said the second half was simply a matter of not getting the necessary defensive stops.
“We played hard and did a lot of good things tonight, but we really struggled to get some defensive stops when we needed to,” she said. “We really struggled with our defense. They (Buckeyes) are a good team and one of the top teams in the league obviously. Our lack of defensive success especially in the second half was the difference.”
Defending Nelsonville-York’s Kaitlyn Hurd was especially problematic, as she scored 21 points on 10 field goals and a free throw.
She had 10 points in the first half and 11 in the second, as her putback bucket with two minutes remaining in the third quarter made it an eight-point margin (49-41), where it never dipped below the rest of the way.
Sam Taylor tacked on 16 points on seven total field goals and a foul shot, scoring seven straight points including her three-point goal to give the Buckeyes a 24-18 advantage.
Jessie Addis added 13 points on five field goals and 2-of-3 free throws, as her basket broke a 31-31 tie and gave N-Y the lead for good.
The Bucks never trailed for the final 19 minutes, as there were four lead changes and three ties.
The Buckeyes shot a sizzling 58-percent from the field (28-of-48), while River Valley was actually even better at 63-percent (21-of-33), but made seven fewer field goals.
Cameron Dupler drained two threes, Brooke Campbell chipped in five points, Sydney Fick made a trey, Hannah Taylor tallied a deuce, and Mary Kate McCulloch canned a free throw to round out Nelsonville-York.
Moore — in her final home game — poured in a game-high 22 points, and drilled all four of her three-pointers in the first half.
She added three twos and 4-of-7 free throws, as the Raiders erased an 8-0 deficit in the first 2:10 to take a pair of one-point leads (16-15 and 18-17) by the end of the quarter.
The Lady Raiders’ largest lead was only three points (18-15) with 49 seconds to play in the first frame, as Smith drove and dished to Brown for the basket.
Nelsonville-York utilized a 37-23 advantage in the middle two periods to force some separation.
Brown bucketed 16 points on seven field goals and 2-of-3 free throws, while Qualls netted seven on two field goals and 3-of-5 free throws.
Smith scored two field goals for four points, while the other Raider starter — Erin Jackson — notched three field goals for six.
Evans-Moore spoke highly of her four seniors, as Moore is her daughter — and a college signee with Fairmont State.
“All four of them are great kids and they work hard in the classroom and on the court. All four of them, any parent would love to have them as a daughter. They are just great kids,” she said. “It’s been a pleasure to spend time with them and work with them over the last six years, since I worked with them in junior high. I’m proud of their effort.”
However, the Lady Raiders’ campaign is not yet done.
River Valley, the seventh seed in the Athens High School sectional, faces 10th-seeded Wellston in the Division III sectional semifinals on Wednesday night.
The Raiders swept the Golden Rockets (1-20) in the regular season, most recently winning 60-37 exactly three weeks ago.
“We’ll focus on Wellston in the tournament now. We’ve beat them twice, but we’re not looking past them,” said Evans-Moore. “Hopefully, we’ll come out with a win for the third time and advance to the sectional final.”
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106