THE PLAINS, Ohio — Unfortunately for the Lady Raiders, it was way too much Ella Skeens — and nowhere near enough firepower to surprise Southeastern.
As a result, the River Valley High School girls basketball team saw its season come to an end on Saturday, as the Lady Raiders lost to the Panthers 55-39 in a Division III sectional championship game inside Athens High School’s McAfee Gymnasium.
Second-seeded Southeastern, on the strength of Skeens’ game-high 28 points, advanced to Thursday night’s Division III district semifinals in Waverly.
The Panthers — the Scioto Valley Conference champions — pushed their record to 20-3, while River Valley ended its season at 11-13.
Truth be told, the seventh-seeded Raiders needed a lot to happen on Saturday if they wanted to shock Southeastern.
It never happened — and the Lady Raiders never led while only being tied 2-2 with a minute and 35 seconds gone by.
Instead, the five-foot, 11-inch sophomore standout Skeens — the SVC Player of the Year — scored 20 of her 28 in the first half, as the Panthers swelled their lead to as large as 42-19 exactly 19 minutes and 25 seconds later.
The Lady Raiders trailed 17-6 following the first quarter, 31-15 at halftime, and finally 42-23 after three quarters.
Southeastern opened the first five-and-a-half minutes on a 15-2 run, as the Panthers’ advantage only dipped into single digits once (17-8) after the first period.
Skeens scored 10 points in each of the first two quarters, then scored her remaining eight in the fourth.
She finished the game with 11 total field goals, including three first-half three-pointers, and 3-of-3 free throws.
“Ella (Skeens) is what makes them (Panthers) go. She is just a phenomenal athlete who can rise up over anybody who is guarding her and knock down a three with pressure or in any particular situation,” said River Valley coach Sarah Evans-Moore. “That really presents a challenge and we just weren’t able to stop her.”
Exactly seven minutes after Southeastern established its 15-2 lead, Skeens scored on a layup to make it 26-10, then her old-fashioned three-point play pushed the Panthers ahead 31-12 for their largest margin of the first half.
Over the final 19 minutes, the Lady Raiders got only as close as 48-34 with 3:42 remaining — thanks to six straight points and back-to-back baskets by RVHS seniors Courtney Smith and Leia Moore.
But only four seconds later, Skeens sank her two fourth-quarter free throws — and the outcome was never in doubt from there.
“In the second half, I thought we came out with a pretty good gameplan of doubling up on her (Skeens), but we couldn’t score,” said Evans-Moore. “We weren’t able to put the points on the scoreboard to catch back up. And we didn’t get to the boards. They crashed the boards and got rebounds we should have had. It is what it is, and Southeastern is a very good team. We would have had to do more things right in order to beat them.”
The remaining Panthers only combined for eight field goals, including Kali Mitten’s three-pointer that made it 15-2.
Mitten added 3-of-3 second-half free throws, while Audrie Wheeler reached double figures with 10 points on three field goals and 4-of-5 foul shots.
Rachel Collins (two field goals) and McKinley Mitten (one field goal and 2-of-2 free throws) managed four points apiece, while Mandy Morris made a field goal and free throw.
Tianna Qualls completed her Raider career with a team-high 14 points, scoring five field goals and 4-of-4 free throws.
Qualls scored inside for River Valley’s first two points, but the Raiders didn’t score again until four minutes and 43 seconds later.
That’s when Moore made two free throws, before her first of four field goals towards 10 points.
Moore made two more baskets in the third quarter, before her final field goal in the fourth.
Qualls scored four points in each of the final three stanzas.
Smith scored seven points on three field goals and a free throw, including a basket in the second quarter.
Erin Jackson on a field goal and Maggie Campbell on a free throw also scored in the second canto.
Shelby Brown on a field goal and foul shot in the fourth frame, along with a Jordan Neal fourth-quarter bucket, rounded out the Silver and Black.
“We played hard and played to the end. We just didn’t have the firepower to put the points on the board to make the difference,” said Evans-Moore.
The contest was the final for four River Valley seniors: Smith, Brown, Qualls and the coach’s daughter Moore.
“These four girls are awesome kids. I’ve said this before, but any parent would love to have any one of these four kids as a daughter,” said Evans-Moore. “They work hard, they are great kids and they don’t cause any trouble. Their departure from the program is going to make a huge impact. They’ve carried a lot of the load and are going to be missed.”
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106
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