Dailey and Josh McCoy out a winner in their final home game Friday. The
night belonged to the senior trio, however, junior D.J. Merriman came
off the bench to score 11 of his game-high 21 points in the final four
minutes of the first-quarter as Zane Trace rolled to the 73-56 Scioto
Valley Conference win.
Miller and Dailey, who both scored 14 apiece, got it going in the second stanza scoring 11 combined points to push the Pioneer lead to as much as 22 and eventually a 40-22 halftime advantage. Unioto did show signs of life in the third quarter, but a dreadful stretch at the charity stripe destroyed any comeback ideas that the Shermans had.
“I am really happy for the seniors,” said Zane Trace head coach Bryan Alley. “We ask Matt (Miller) to do so much, and his versatility really makes it tough for others to match-up with us. Beau (Dailey) has been really unselfish this year. He has given up some of his offense to take on the role of guarding the other team’s best player, and then Josh (McCoy) does a nice job running the point off the bench.
“We have really settled in to an eight man rotation and the kids are really starting to get comfortable,” Alley continued. “This team played seven of our first nine games away from home and that really can wear on a young team. We start three sophomores and I think they are just starting to get comfortable with the different game situations.”
Unioto’s fine senior guard Curtis Baker knocked down an early triple to pull the Shermans within one at 8-7 before Merriman scored the next five Zane Trace field goals including a right-corner three-pointer to give ZT the 17-11 advantage at the end of one.
The Pioneers continued their hot shooting in the second-quarter scoring 23 points in the period including buckets from five different players. The run that started in the final few minutes of the first period and continued to just before halftime saw Zane Trace outscore Unioto 26-7 to put the Pioneers in total control heading to the locker room.
The Shermans responded well in the third quarter with an aggressive start that saw the purple and gold in the bonus by the four-minute mark and in the double bonus a minute later. Unfortunately for Unioto, it was unable to capitalize as the Shermans shot seven of 20 from the line in the third quarter including two front-end misses as well.
“The talk at the half was about coming out aggressive and looking to get back into it,” said Unioto head coach Matt Hoops. “Zane Trace is very athletic and we knew coming after them could lead to a 30-point loss, but we weren’t about to sit back and not attempt to get back in it. I was proud of our effort in the third quarter, but we just didn’t convert at the free throw line.”
Despite the Unioto miscues, Baker knocked down a triple to get his Shermans within 15 at 63-48, but again it was Merriman answering for Zane Trace as the junior forward converted on a pair of old-fashioned threes to push the lead back to 21 at 69-48.
“We knew coming in that he had been playing well off the bench of late,” said Coach Hoops of Merriman who has now scored in double-figures in four of his last five games. “He got off to a quick start in the first quarter, built some confidence, and then really rolled from there.”
The win keeps a streaking Zane Trace team on a roll. The Pioneers are know 11-7 overall and 8-4 in the SVC. Zane Trace has lost only two times – both to tough Division II opponents in Logan Elm and McClain – since Christmas, a stretch that includes wins over top-five, state-ranked Huntington and Division II Washington Court House. Zane Trace finishes the regular season with road trips to Paint Valley and Westfall next week before opening the tournament trail with Portsmouth.
“It is what it is,” said Coach Alley of the tournament draw. “We have a great deal of respect for Portsmouth. Hopefully the SVC and our tough non-league schedule have prepared us for the challenge. We want to finish strong in the league next week and then get ready for the sectional.”
With the loss, Unioto falls to 5-7 in the league, but Hoops feels optimistic for the most part about the direction of the program.
“Somewhat,” Hoops said when asked if he was pleased with the progress of his team in his first season. “We started 0-6 and then went 5-5 before tonight. Obviously, 5-12 is not where we want to be, but we do have some young guys developing nicely, and hopefully we can continue to get better at all levels of the program.
“The biggest thing for us is consistency,” Hoops continued. “We have really shown some flashes at times this year, but we just haven’t been able to continue it from game to game.”
Unioto was led by Baker with 12 points and senior Ryan Shreve recorded his third straight double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Junior guard Ben Bower also added 10 points for the Shermans. Unioto finishes next week with a busy three-game week as they host Huntington, Paint Valley, and Madison Plains next week before beginning the postseason with Waverly.