ATHENS, Ohio — Even in defeat, the pride resonated through.
The South Gallia boys basketball team had its historical postseason come to an end Saturday afternoon during a 64-55 setback to Pike Eastern in a Division IV district championship matchup at the Ohio University Convocation Center in Athens County.
The fourth-seeded Rebels (13-10) were appearing in their first-ever district hoops final since the school’s inception in the fall of 1996, and most of the community showed up at the Convo to take in the inaugural moment.
The second-seeded Eagles (18-5), however, were looking forward to playing the spoiler role, as the Brown and Orange were in search of their first district championship since 1990 and sixth overall in program history.
And early on, it was Pike Eastern that took control of the contest.
South Gallia led 3-0 a minute into regulation, but the guests countered with eight straight points for an 8-3 edge at the 2:49 mark of the first quarter. SGHS reeled off three consecutive points to pull within 8-6 at the 1:27 mark, but the Eagles followed with a 7-0 surge to claim a 15-6 advantage after eight minutes of play.
EHS kept that momentum going into the second canto after using an 11-3 run to establish its biggest lead of the night at 26-9 with 2:42 left in the half. The Rebels, however, finally found their offensive groove late in the period, as the hosts closed the second canto on an 11-4 charge to pull within 30-20 at the intermission.
South Gallia’s momentum kept moving along into the second half, as the Red and Gold went on a 12-3 charge over the opening 3:31 of the third quarter — allowing the hosts to pull within 33-32 with four-and-a-half minutes remaining in the canto.
Both teams traded baskets for a 35-34 score at the 3:18 mark, but the Eagles ran off five straight points to claim a 40-34 edge with 2:46 left. SGHS closed the quarter on a small 5-3 spurt to cut the deficit down to 43-39 headed into the finale.
Eastern opened the fourth with five straight points for a 48-39 edge with 5:55 left in regulation, but South Gallia made another charge after going on an 8-1 run over the next 1:53 to pull back to within a possession at 49-47
The Eagles reeled off five straight points for a 54-47 lead with 2:54 left in regulation, but the Rebels again answered the bell with a 6-0 run to cut the lead down to one point with less than two minutes left. Danny Matney again nailed a trifecta at the 1:58 mark to get the hosts to within 54-53, but SGHS never came closer the rest of the way.
Eastern scored the next 10 points over a 1:33 span, which gave the guests a sizable 64-53 edge with 25 seconds left in regulation. EHS was also a perfect 8-for-8 at the free throw line during that 90-second span. South Gallia scored five seconds later to wrap up the final score at 64-55.
The win allows Pike Eastern to advance to the Division IV regional semifinals, where it will face Manchester. The Greyhounds defeated South Webster in the other D-4 district final by a 54-41 margin.
SGHS coach Donnie Saunders was disappointed in the final outcome afterwards, but that was about it.
“We never quit. We never have. Eastern was just a little bit better than us today,” Saunders said. “We did get down a little bit too far, but we thought we might have a shot at it after we cut that big deficit down to one. Eastern just did what it had to do to protect that lead, and we just couldn’t overcome it.
“I’m just so proud of these guys. These guys have made history down at South Gallia this year, and they’ve given all the effort and fight that they’ve had. I couldn’t be prouder of these young men.”
The Rebels connected on 19-of-59 field goal attempts for 32 percent, including a 5-of-19 effort from three-point range for 26 percent. SGHS hauled in 28 rebounds and committed 15 turnovers in the setback, including nine giveaways in the first half. Pike Eastern had 11 turnovers at the half and 23 miscues for the game.
John Johnson led the Rebels with 17 points, 12 of which came in the second half. Danny Matney added 15 points and Dalton Matney finished with 13 markers, while Cory Haner and Ethan Spurlock respectively contributed five and four points. Levi Ellis rounded out the scoring with one point. SGHS was 12-of-20 at the free throw line for 60 percent.
Chad Lands paced Eastern with a game-high 31 points, which included all three of the Eagles’ trifectas and a 12-of-17 performance at the free throw line. Tavares Pickett and Blake Roberts chipped in respective efforts of 11 and nine points to the winning cause. EHS was 23-of-33 at the charity stripe for 70 percent.
South Gallia was making its fourth appearance at the district tournament, which included district semifinal losses in 2005, 2006 and last year as well. The Rebels also started the year with a 6-1 mark before hitting a rough spell in the middle of the regular season.
In watching SGHS join Gallia Academy as the only current Gallia County programs to ever play in a district championship game, Saunders was nothing but proud while reflecting on the 2011-12 season. And, as he noted, this group will be the bar to measure what future Rebels do in the postseason.
“With the injuries and sickness we’ve gone through this year, it was great to watch these guys overcome that and make this tournament run,” Saunders said. “One of our biggest goals this year was getting that first district win for the school, and we achieved that.
“The next goal for this program will be to take it a little bit further. These guys have set the new standard, and it’s something they should be proud of.”
Playing in their final basketball game in the Red and Gold were seniors John Johnson, David Michael, Cory Haner, Levi Ellis, Danny Matney and Dalton Matney. SGHS now owns a district record of 1-4 in its career.
River Valley is now the only Gallia County program without a district final appearance, as the Raiders are 0-4 in district semifinal play since the school opened in the fall of 1991. It was also Pike Eastern’s first district final appearance since the 2000 campaign.
Pike Eastern 64, South Gallia 55
PE 15-15-13-21 — 64
SG6-14-19-16 — 55
PIKE EASTERN (18-5): Aaron Satterfield 2 0-0 4, Alex Phipps 0 0-0 0, Chad Lands 8 12-17 31, Matt Alley 0 0-0 0, Zach Bobst 1 0-0 2, Blake Roberts 1 7-8 9, Tavares Pickett 4 3-4 11, Josh Thacker 0 0-0 0, Billy Lykins 3 1-4 7, Matt Shaw 0 0-0 0, Brandon Murphy 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 19 23-33 64. Three-point goals: 3 (Lands 3). Turnovers: 23. Team Fouls: 19.
SOUTH GALLIA (13-10): John Johnson 7 3-5 17, Eli Johnson 0 0-0 0, David Michael 0 0-2 0, Ethan Spurlock 1 2-2 4, Cory Haner 2 1-2 5, Levi Ellis 0 1-3 1, Seth Jarrell 0 0-0 0, Mikey Wheeler 0 0-0 0, Alex Stapleton 0 0-0 0, Gus Slone 0 0-0 0, Kody Lambert 0 0-0 0, Ethan Swain 0 0-0 0, Danny Matney 5 2-2 15, C.J. Johnston 0 0-0 0, Dalton Matney 4 3-4 13. TOTALS: 19 12-20 55. Three-point goals: 5 (Dan. Matney 3, Dal. Matney 2). Field Goals: 19-59 (.322). Rebounds: 28. Turnovers: 15. Team Fouls: 25.