PIKETON, Ohio — In the end, coronavirus vaccines were probably easier to find than the shots available inside Piketon High School.
The Gallia Academy boys basketball team had its magical postseason run come to an end as seventh-seeded Unioto led all but 39 seconds of regulation on Saturday night during a 47-32 decision in a Division II Southeast 2 district championship matchup in Pike County.
The 14th-seeded Blue Devils (11-10) executed their game plan efficiently for roughly three quarters, but turnovers and a lack of shot attempts ultimately caught up with them as the Shermans (17-5) made a quick 7-0 run over the final 1:43 of the third — turning a narrow 1-possession game into a 34-24 advantage headed into the finale.
The Blue and White missed their first seven shot attempts and went just 1-of-13 overall in the fourth, and the guests were never closer than three possessions the rest of the way. UHS netted 7-of-10 charity tosses down the stretch and took its largest lead of the night with the final 15-point margin.
Defense was the theme of the night for both teams, and each squad endured significant scoreless spans throughout the course of 32 minutes. GAHS, however, ended up committing 18 turnovers and produced only 36 shot attempts — something that ultimately hindered the guests from moving on to the program’s third regional appearance in school history.
Afterwards, Gallia Academy coach Gary Harrison was disappointed with final outcome — but that was about the only disappointment to be found in the eighth-year mentor. As he noted, it was simply a ride that he, his staff, the players and the community could hold their heads up high about.
And with 80 percent of his starting unit coming back, there is also reason to believe that this could be the opening chapter for a much larger story book ending.
“I told the guys that the group from four years ago got the program back to winning. These guys have changed the program by taking us back to some of our best days in basketball. These guys have definitely elevated the bar for the program moving forward,” Harrison said. “As young as we were coming in, this year was supposed to be about learning. It turned into winning, and a lot of experience came along with that winning.
“I know losing hurts, but this was losing in a good way because we ended up getting somewhere that nobody thought that we’d be. We worked hard together and it paid off in the end. Our seniors played a large role in helping us grow and getting us to this point, and that’s the part that will be hard to replace. Our future looks bright though, and our seniors are going out in a district final. We had a great season.”
The Blue Devils were assessed a technical foul for dunking in pregame warmups, and Isaac Little converted the second of two free throws in giving Unioto a 1-0 lead before any time even ticked off the clock.
UHS pushed its lead out to three before Brody Fellure knotted things up with a trifcta at the 5:25 mark, but the Shermans answered with an 8-2 run while securing its largest lead of the first period with 3:52 remaining.
GAHS — which ultimately missed its final eight 3-point attempts on the evening — got back-to-back baskets from Isaac Clary, then a Carson Call layup with 1:49 left knotted things up at 11-all. Fellure completed the 8-0 push with a short runner 29 seconds later, allowing the guests to take their only lead of the game at 13-11.
DeSean Branson’s 3-pointer with 41 seconds left in the opening quarter gave Unioto what proved to be a permanent lead, then Branson added another basket while giving the hosts a 16-13 edge through eight minutes of play.
Gallia Academy committed seven turnovers in the second stanza, all while producing only six shot attempts over that same span. Those miscues allowed UHS to make a 9-3 surge over the opening 4-plus minutes while establishing its largest lead of the half at 25-16 with 3:21 remaining.
GAHS, however, snapped a 2-plus minute scoring drought with a Kenyon Franklin basket at 3:08, then a Call bucket capped a 4-0 run to close out the half as the Blue and White closed to within 25-20 entering the break.
The Shermans — who shot 50 percent from the field in the opening half — extended the lead out to seven with a Little basket at the 6:40 mark, but the hosts were held scoreless over the next 4:56 as GAHS strung together one final run at the lead.
Call answered the Little basket with one of his own 30 seconds later, then a Clary bucket at the 2:50 mark pushed the guests to within 27-24. The Blue Devils, however, were never closer the rest of the way.
Evan Park ended the UHS scoring drought with a trifecta at the 1:43 mark, then Little added a pair of charity tosses that increased the lead back out to 32-24 with 43.3 seconds remaining.
Unioto, however, made some luck for itself just before the end of the frame. The hosts came up short on a late possession, which ended up being a rebound for a Gallia Academy player.
Branson stole the ball away and converted a point-blank layup underneath just before the buzzer sounded, giving the hosts their first double-digit lead of the night at 34-24 as both teams headed into the finale.
A Clary putback with 3:17 left in regulation capped a 5-4 spurt and closed the gap down to 38-29, but the guests were never closer. Branson had nine points for UHS down the stretch and the hosts ended the final 3:02 with a 9-3 run to complete the 47-32 outcome.
It had been 18 years since Gallia Academy last appeared in a district final, and that year ended up leading to the program’s second-ever district championship. GAHS also won a district crown in 1974.
Unioto — which is headed to its third regional tournament in seven years and fourth overall — also eliminated Gallia Academy from the postseason in the 2014 and 2015 sectional tournaments. UHS — which now faces Columbus DeSales in the D-2 regional semifinals — previously won district crowns in 1991, 2015 and 2018.
Harrison admitted afterwards that it was going to take 32 minutes of quality basketball to get out of Piketon with a victory. Things worked well for about 20 minutes, but the Shermans eventually proved to be too much to keep up with.
“We knew it was going to be a slug-fest coming in. We wanted to keep it low-scoring and slow things down, all the things we normally do. We controlled the tempo for most of the game, which gave us chance in the second half,” Harrison said. “We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well tonight when we did get shots up. Give Unioto credit though, they are athletic, long and deep. They had a lot to do with our struggles tonight.”
The Blue Devils outrebounded the hosts by a 29-20 overall margin, including an 11-5 edge on the offensive glass. The guests also committed 18 of the 30 turnovers in game, including nine miscues in each half.
Gallia Academy went 9-of-36 from the field for 25 percent, including a 1-of-9 effort from behind the arc for 11 percent. The Blue and White also went 12-of-18 at the free throw line for 67 percent.
Clary led the guests with 11 points, followed by Call and Fellure with eight points each. Franklin and Cooper Davis completed the scoring with two markers apiece.
Davis led the Blue Devils with 11 rebounds, while Clary hauled in eight boards in the setback. Davis, Trent Johnson and Noah Vanco are the seniors that played in their final game in the Blue and White.
The Shermans netted 16-of-40 shot attempts for 40 percent, including a 5-of-13 effort from 3-point territory for 38 percent. The hosts were also 10-of-14 at the charity stripe for 71 percent.
Branson paced UHS with a game-high 16 points, followed by Isaac Little with 15 points and Tayvion Galloway with 11 markers. Galloway also pulled down a team-best five caroms.
Park and Cameron DeBord completed the winning tally with three and two points, respectively.
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Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.