GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — They didn’t win either of their two games against county teams this year, but no program in Gallia County — or the Ohio Valley Publishing area for that matter — had a better basketball season than the Defenders.
The Ohio Valley Christian boys basketball team captured the program’s first state championship since 2004 while also adding its first-ever Ohio Christian Schools Athletic Association banner in boys competition this past winter, capping a remarkable campaign that resulted in a 22-6 overall record.
The Defenders won their second straight Kingsway Tournament crown while opening the season with six straight wins, then dropped four consecutive decisions to find themselves just a handful of games over .500 in the opening month of the season.
OVCS, however, put together wins in 13 of their next 14 outings — which included a memorable 77-66 overtime victory over visiting Wellston on February 8 — while improving to 19-5 overall.
The Defenders — who dropped a 55-46 decision to River Valley on December 19 in Bidwell — suffered their final setback of the year following a 56-41 outcome at home against South Gallia. SGHS, coincidentally, defeated OVCS, RVHS and Gallia Academy in basketball this winter, which technically made the Rebels the kings of Gallia County in the regular season.
The postseason, however, proved much different for the Defenders as the Blue and White won three of their four tournament contests by 20-or-more points — including both Final Four contests held at Ohio Christian University in Circleville.
The lone postseason scare came from New Hope Christian as OVCS avenged one of its regular season setbacks with a 60-55 win in the OCSAA southeast regional final in Circleville.
That victory allowed Ohio Valley Christian to advance to its fourth consecutive OCSAA Final Four, but the Defenders had yet to play in a state final game after finishing third last year and fourth the previous two campaigns.
OVCS had little trouble in its state semifinal contest against Bellefontaine Calvary Christian after delivering a 61-39 victory, then the Defenders led all but 30 seconds of the championship game against Dayton Temple Christian en route to a 49-28 triumph.
A large reason for Ohio Valley Christian’s success came down to the play of four-year starter Marshall Hood, a 6-foot-5 senior who posted averages of 18.2 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game.
Hood had double-double efforts in all four tournament games, as well as the contests against OHSAA programs such as South Gallia, River Valley and Wellston.
It was those kind of efforts — which included 27 points and 13 rebounds against the Golden Rockets — that catapulted Hood into being named not only the most valuable player of the state tournament, but also the player of the year in the OVP area.
The 2016 OCSAA state title also came 25 years after Ohio Valley Christian won its first state championship in basketball as members of the WVCEA. It was the third state title overall in the history of the boys basketball program.
The Defenders’ final victory of the season also happened in convincing fashion as OVCS knocked off Chicago’s New Jerusalem Baptist by a 75-54 mark.
Besides Hood — the only Defender on the 2015-16 roster to compete in all four state tournaments — OVCS will be losing Andrew Sims, Dillon Ragan and Justin Sizemore to graduation.
Eligible to return for the Defenders next season are Elijah McDonald, Austin Ragan, Michael Gruber, Justin Beaver, Josh McDonald and Bryce Gruber. Three of the team’s top five scorers will also be returning to defend the title.
They might not be the powerhouse teams you see winning state titles in the OHSAA or the WVSSAC, but the Defenders weren’t afraid to play bigger schools or better programs. They also weren’t afraid of taking losses, knowing the whole time that the better competition would only benefit them down the road.
Those competitive choices ultimately proved to be beneficial, particularly when Ohio Valley Christian was holding a rather large trophy over its head.
No other basketball team, outside of the OVCS boys, in the tri-county area — boys or girls — advanced to the regional level of the postseason.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.