ATHENS – After Chillicothe overcame a double-digit deficit to defeat Logan Elm in a 49-48 nail biter, it was Vinton County pulling off the same trick in a 56-55 thriller over Greenfield McClain in the nightcap at the Convo Friday night. The comeback wins crown both the Cavaliers and the Vikings as Division II district champions, and sets up a regional semifinal next Thursday night back at the Convo.
In game two, McClain exploded out of the gate getting field goals from five different Tigers in the early going to jump out to an early 13-2 advantage. With Vinton County in jeopardy of being blown out, the Vikings turned to their inside-out scoring tandem of Dustin Guthrie and Ryan Stewart and the senior duo responded with 18 points before the half to trim the Greenfield lead to 31-26 at the break.
“McClain really outplayed us in the first half, but our kids just kept playing,” Vinton County head coach Matt Combs said. “We were trying to establish Dustin early in the game, but their solid ball pressure was making it tough for us to get him the ball in positions to score. I thought as the game went on we were able to get some scoring from other people it really helped open things up.”
Greenfield was extremely sharp on the offensive end in the first half. The Tigers connected on 63-percent of their first half field goal attempts as point guard Lucas Polley had 11 points and four assists before the half to lead the well-balanced McClain attack.
In the third quarter, it was Vinton County that received contributions from a variety of players to continue its way back in the game. Senior Andrew Eberts scored seven points in the third quarter while junior forward Jake Prater scored six points during that same stanza – including a put back basket just as the third quarter buzzer sounded to give Vinton County its first lead of the night at 44-43.
Vinton County’s momentum was short lived as Greenfield responded by opening the final quarter with a triple from Jeremy Webster. This started a seesaw stretch that saw the game tied twice and the lead changed three times over the final five minutes of play. A Stewart three followed by a Stewart drive and score helped Vinton County turn a three point deficit into a two-point advantage; however, Polley answered with a drive of his own to tie the game. After Guthrie put VC back up two it was Greenfield’s outstanding freshman Vinny Zollo dialing up a long-distance three from the left corner to put the Tigers up one with a little over a minute to play.
The Vikings went back to Guthrie on the ensuing possession and the All-Ohioan answered with a go-ahead basket – a basket that proved to be the game-winner.
McClain owned the basketball for most of the game’s final minute. The Tigers had a few chances at the basket thanks to an offensive rebound from Dalton Detty as well as a traveling violation as Stewart was unable to keep his balance following a steal with 29.6 seconds remaining.
Following McClain’s final timeout, the Tigers went with a dribble entry right and were looking to flash a guy to the ball side elbow, but a great denial by Vinton County’s Ben Batey took away what appeared to be McClain’s first option forcing the Tigers to improvise with the clock ticking down. McClain did get a shot up on the glass with about six seconds remaining, but as the miss hit the floor there was a mad scramble that eventually ended in Prater coming out of the pack with the ball as time expired.
“Greenfield is a well-coached team – well I guess to say a well-coached team would be a gross understatement – they are as well-coached of team as you will ever play against,” said Coach Combs in reference to the legendary McClain sideline general in Rick VanMatre. “We knew nothing would come easy on the offensive end, and they are a tough team to guard as well. We just tried to work hard and put ourselves in position to win, and in the end, we survived and advanced.”
Vinton County had four guys in double-figures. The Vikings were led by Guthrie’s 17 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks. Stewart added 14 points and four steals for VC while Eberts and Prater scored 10 apiece. A huge part of this balanced scoring was the outstanding floor game by point guard Andy Grillo. Grillo scored only three points, but more importantly, the Viking floor general dished out eight assists while turning it over only twice as the sophomore played all but 25 seconds Friday night against the tenacious on-ball pressure of Greenfield.
The Tigers got an outstanding all-around performance from their sophomore point guard as well. Polley scored 17 points while handing out six assists. Webster added 15 for the Tigers and Zollo scored nine and grabbed eight boards as well. Greenfield ends an outstanding season at 19-4.
“I know a lot of people have doubted us this year, but you have to know these kids,” said Coach Combs. “These kids are winners. They have won 44 of their last 46 games for a reason. They just continue to find a way to win, and that’s what they did again tonight.”
Next up for the Vikings will be Coach Gary Kellough’s 21-2 Chillicothe Cavaliers. The Cavs defeated Coach Doug Stiverson’s Logan Elm Braves – a member of the Mid-State League who sees their season end at 18-5 – by the before mentioned one-point margin in Friday’s early game. Chillicothe was led by senior center Ray Chambers with 21 points and 16 rebounds while senior point guard Anthony Hitchens scored 14 points and snatched five steals.
In the loss, Logan Elm was led by its all-district guard Tim Congrove. The junior connected on five of seven from downtown as well as all three free throw attempts to score a team-high 18 points. Senior center Steve Largent scored 10 points and grabbed 10 boards for the Braves as well.
“We realized the incredibly difficult challenge ahead of us,” said Combs when asked about Chillicothe. “They are a great team and we know we will have to play our very best to have a chance.”