JACKSON, Ohio — It wasn’t a gimme, but rather somewhat more of a freebie.
Ninth-seeded Meigs never trailed in the second half and converted 14-of-18 free throws over that span — including 9-of-12 over the final 58 seconds of regulation — and held on for a 63-60 victory over eighth-seeded Crooksville in a Division III boys sectional semifinal basketball contest Monday night at Jackson High School.
Both the Marauders (9-13) and host Ceramics (8-14) battled through eight lead changes and four ties over the course of the opening nine minutes of play, but the Maroon and Gold claimed what proved to be a permanent lead at 20-19 following a Zach Bartrum basket at the 5:16 mark of the second canto.
The guests followed with a 10-4 run over the next five minutes and took their largest lead of the first half at 30-23 following a pair of Bartrum free throws with 11 seconds left, but an old-fashioned three-pointer from Trey White allowed CHS to close the halftime deficit down to 30-26.
Bartrum again capped a 7-2 run out of the second half gate, allowing Meigs to secure its largest lead of the night at 37-28 with 4:06 left in the third. The Red and Black, however, forced seven turnovers in the third stanza and answered with an 8-4 run that whittled the lead down to 41-36 entering the finale.
The Marauders converted 12-of-16 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter, and a pair of Bobby Musser charity tosses with 50 seconds remaining allowed Meigs to secure its largest lead of the fourth at 57-49.
The Ceramics hit four of their final five shot attempts — including a trio of three-pointers — in that final minute, but ultimately never came closer than 62-60 with nine seconds left in regulation.
Jake Roush converted the first of two free throw attempts with one second left for a three-point lead, but the second try rolled off the rim and into the arms of Landon Hinkle.
Hinkle gave a desperation toss from 90-feet away, but came up wide and short of his intended target — giving the Marauders a one-possession triumph.
It wasn’t the easiest home stretch for Meigs, who lost Bartrum after he picked up his fifth personal on an offensive foul call with 1:04 left.
With their primary ball-handler and arguably their most experienced player on the bench as a spectator, the Marauders calmly sank nine of their next 11 freebies before Roush’s final miss at the end of regulation.
Fourth-year MHS coach Ed Fry admitted that he was concerned headed into those final moments of the contest, but he was also very proud to see the way his remaining roster stepped up after losing his starting point guard with 64 seconds left.
“I was getting really nervous when Bartrum fouled out, because he’s usually pretty good about playing with four fouls. We depend a lot on him in crunch time to handle the ball and get to the free throw line,” Fry said. “The younger kids, to their credit, they stepped up down the stretch and hit some big free throws to keep us out in front. I was really impressed with their focus and how they managed to finish the game.”
The Marauders stormed out to early leads of 4-0 and 6-3, but the hosts answered with an 8-5 run that left things tied at 11-all with 2:28 left in the first. Both teams traded leads over the final 1:47, with Meigs using a small 4-3 run to take a 15-14 edge after eight minutes of play.
Crooksville tied the game at 15 and then went on a 4-1 run, with Caden Miller’s basket giving CHS its largest lead of the night at 19-16 with 5:56 remaining in the half.
The Maroon and Gold followed with nine consecutive points for a 25-19 cushion at the 3:15 mark, Hinkle capped a quick 4-0 run with a trifecta a minute later as the hosts were back within 25-23. Meigs ended the final 1:42 on a 5-3 run to take a four-point advantage into the break.
The Marauders outrebounded the Red and Black by an 18-15 margin in the first half, including a slim 4-3 edge on the offensive glass. MHS also committed seven of the 16 total turnovers in the first half and was 7-of-12 at the free throw line over that span.
Meigs finished the night 20-of-46 from the field for 43 percent, including a 2-of-6 effort from behind the arc for 33 percent. The guests were also 21-of-30 at the free throw line for 70 percent.
Baer paced MHS with a game-high 33 points, with 14 of those coming in the fourth canto. Bartrum was next with 14 points, followed by Nick Lilly with 10 markers.
Roush and Bobby Musser completed the winning tally with respective efforts of four and two points.
Musser hauled in a team-high nine rebounds for the Marauders, while Lilly grabbed six boards. Baer, Bartrum and Wyatt Hoover also collected five caroms apiece.
The Ceramics netted 21-of-64 shot attempts for 33 percent, including an 8-of-26 effort from three-point range for 31 percent. The hosts were also 9-of-19 at the charity stripe for 47 percent.
Miller led CHS with a double-double effort of 16 points and 12 rebounds, followed by Brock White with 13 points and Hinkle with nine markers. Trey White and Eric Taylor were next with seven points apiece.
Colt White and Michael Baughman contributed three points apiece, with Brady Brannon completing things with a single point.
Meigs — which hasn’t won a sectional title since 2013 — has another tough task ahead of it when it faces top-seeded Oak Hill at 6 p.m. Friday in a D-3 sectional final at Jackson High School.
Fry acknowledges that the Oaks — the outright Southern Ohio Conference II champions — will be a tall order for his troops. The venerable mentor, however, also knows that you have to have a spot in the game if you hope to have a chance to win it.
“Oak Hill has a great basketball team, but we’re going to show up and play hard,” Fry said. “If we can do what we do with our guys out there, we might have a chance. Then again, we already have a chance because we are playing in a sectional final. Now it’s just up to us and what we do with that chance.”
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.