ROCKSPRINGS, Ohio — Unfortunately for Tornadoes, you don’t get a second chance to start your second season.
The third-seeded Southern boys basketball team dropped its postseason opener, on Wednesday night in Meigs High School’s Larry R. Morrison Gymnasium, as sixth-seeded Ironton St. Joseph never trailed en route to a 61-54 victory, and the sectional championship.
The Flyers (12-12) scored the game’s first two points, but Southern (11-12) tied it up at two, the only tie of the game. St. Joseph hit their first five field goal attempts and led 16-10 by the conclusion of the first period.
The Tornadoes hit a three-pointer to open the second quarter, cutting the the Flyer lead to one possession. Southern made just one more field goal in the period, however, as St. Joseph built its lead to 12 points, at 29-17, by halftime.
In the first half, St. Joseph shot 60 percent from the field, while Southern made field goals at a 20.8 percent pace.
The Flyers extended their lead to a game-high 14 points, at 33-19, with 6:28 left in the third quarter. SHS trimmed its deficit to eight points, at 35-27, with 2:52 remaining in the third, but St. Joseph claimed the only point over the remainder of the stanza.
The Tornadoes began the fourth quarter with a 10-7 run, cutting the St. Joseph lead to six points, at 43-37, with 3:51 to go. Over the next two minutes, the Flyers sank 7-of-8 free throws to extend their lead to 13 points, at 50-37, with 1:54 to play.
Southern answered with a 17-to-7 run — highlighted by four trifectas — which cut the SJHS lead to three points, at 57-54, with 30 seconds to play.
The Tornadoes — who had three players foul out during the spurt — didn’t score again, however, as the Flyers sealed the 61-54 victory with four straight free throws.
“We knew it’d be a tough matchup, they’re a pretty good team,” 10th-year Tornadoes head coach Jeff Caldwell said. “We just got down early, we couldn’t get anything going offensively, and we let them get off to a good start. It was an up hill battle all night, I’m proud of our kids for giving the effort to come back and make it interesting there at the end.”
Southern claimed a narrow 25-to-24 rebounding advantage, including 11-to-6 on the offensive end. The Tornadoes committed 19 turnovers in the setback, one fewer than SJHS. Both teams finished with 13 assists and eight steals, with the Tornadoes claiming the game’s only two rejections.
For the game, the Tornadoes shot 18-of-54 (33.3 percent) from the field, including 8-of-24 (33.3 percent) from three-point range. Meanwhile, the Flyers shot 16-of-36 (44.4 percent) from the field, including 2-of-10 (20 percent).
From the free throw line, Southern was 10-of-12 (83.3 percent), while St. Joseph was 27-of-34 (79.4 percent), including 21-of-27 (77.8 percent) in the fourth quarter.
The Tornado offense was led by seniors Blake Johnson and Tylar Blevins with 12 points apiece. Weston Thorla scored eight points in the setback, Trey McNickle added seven points and a team-high seven assists, while Crenson Rogers and Trey Pickens both marked six points. Rounding out the Southern scoring was Dylan Smith with three points.
Johnson led SHS on the glass with seven rebounds, followed by Thorla with six and McNickle with five. McNickle led the Tornado defense with three steals and one blocked shot, while Blevins picked up a pair of steals.
SJHS junior Chase Walters led the Flyers with 24 points, to go along with five rebounds. Fellow St. Joseph junior Zac McGraw scored 16 points and marked team-highs of six rebounds and three steals.
Clay Willis contributed eight points to the winning cause, while Isaac Whaley posted seven points, seven assists and two steals for the Flyers. The SJHS offense was rounded out by Trey Neal and Peyton Adkins with four and two points respectively.
The win serves as a revenge for the Flyers, as Southern won the only regular season meeting between the teams, by a 61-52 count, in Ironton on February 10.
This marks the final game in the Purple and Gold for Southern’s six seniors, Tylar Blevins, Trey Pickens, Blake Johnson, Kody Greene, Eli Hunter and Crenson Rogers.
“I appreciate that they’ve stuck with it and I wish them the best in what ever the do from here on out,” Coach Caldwell said of his seniors. “We have a few of young guys coming back that got a lot of varsity playing time. We’ve got some good young players coming, but I’m disappointed for the seniors. I feel bad for them, I wanted them to play a little bit longer, St. Joe just played better than us tonight.”
St. Joseph will move on to the district semifinal, where it will face the winner of second-seeded Trimble and seventh-seeded Belpre. The Tomcats and Golden Eagles were originally scheduled to meet on Wednesday night at MHS, but the game was postponed to Thursday, due to flooding.
This marks the fifth sectional title for St. Joseph, which last played in the district tournament in 2014.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.