WEST ALEXANDRIA — The past two years when Twin Valley South and National Trail’s boys’ basketball teams have played, the games have come down to which team makes the most productive plays in the fourth quarter.
Friday night was not much different.
Except, this time, the host Panthers found a way to escape with a thrilling, defensive-minded, 45-41 win in a Cross County Conference game on Dec. 15.
“We found a way to win the close game instead of finding the ways to lose, which is what we’ve done for too long,” South Coach Tony Augspurger said.
In the previous three meetings, over the past two seasons, Trail has had the upper hand. The Blazers won twice in overtime and again in a close game two weeks ago in the championship game of the Twin Valley South Tip-Off Tournament.
It appeared Trail was on its way to a fourth straight win after Adam Eyler’s jump shot put the Blazers up 41-37 with just over three minutes left in the game.
South, though, responded with a game-clinching 8-0 run.
“When 12 hit the jump shot, the 15-footer that put them up again, in that short corner, coach DeLong says to me ‘these other teams, their guys keep stepping up and making shots and we’re not doing it’ and then we go on an 8-0 run to end it,” Augspurger said. “We did it. We stepped up and got it done.”
South Junior Willie Bowman led all scorers with 24 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter. He scored the first six points of the deciding run and Ryan Bassler put the game out of reach with a pair of free throws.
“Let’s be honest, Willie was huge in the fourth quarter,” Augspurger said. “He was just huge.”
Travis Lovely, who finished with 10 points, was a perfect at the line for the Panthers.
“We stepped up and made free throws. Travis has been having a frustrating year and he goes six-for-six from the free-throw line,” Augspurger said. “He stepped up and made shots on a night where he wasn’t making field goals.”
Another key to the win was the fact South held Trail’ leading scorer Dalton Mason to just four points.
“We guarded Mason better tonight. He’s killed us for three games and we held him to four,” Augspurger said. “He killed us both games last year and he played great against us and was deservedly the MVP of the tip-off tournament and we held him to four tonight and I thought that was huge.”
Hunter Michael, who didn’t play when the teams met two weeks ago, led Trail with 10 points.
“They beat us two week ago and honestly, the kid that they added to mix, we beat a better team tonight than we lost to two weeks ago. That kid’s a good addition,” Augspurger said of Michael.
Eyler finished with eight points and Travis Hunt added seven.
Trail led 14-9 after the first quarter and extended its lead to 18-9 three minutes into the second quarter.
South, however, closed out the quarter on a 10-4 run.
The game was tied four times in the third quarter.
South took a 35-32 lead early in the fourth. It was the Panthers first lead since they led 7-6 midway through the first quarter.
Trail went on a 9-2 run for a 41-37 lead, before the Panthers closed out the scoring.
“South is very, very good defensively. They made shots awful tough for us the first time around and we had some answers. Kind of a reversal of fortunes. They missed a ton of easy shots the first time and we missed a ton of shots and a lot of free throws it seemed,” Trail Coach Mike Harrison said.
“I thought in the second quarter we had opportunities where we maybe took a couple of questionable shots and didn’t finish some where we could have extended that lead. We let a good prideful team stay in it and it got to be a 50-50 game and they made the plays down the stretch this time.”
Trail closed out the week with a 58-49 win, at home, over Centerville (Indiana).
Cameron Harrison led the way with 23 points, including seven 3-pointers and had four steals. Hunt added 13 points and six assists and Zach Woodall pulled down eight rebounds and had five assists.
National Trail led 34-20 midway through the third quarter when Centerville went on an 18-7 run to cut the lead to three at 41-38 early in the fourth. A Hunt layup followed by a Cameron Harrison three, and then four quick points from Eyler pushed the lead back to 10 midway through the fourth. The lead never went below seven again.
“I’m proud of the kids for finding a way to get a solid bounce-back win tonight,” Mike Harrison said. “Looking forward though we have to get better defensively. We are giving up too many shot opportunities at the rim and giving opponents’ best shot-makers too many clean looks. And offensively we need to start making more of our own easy opportunities and find a little more of the balance that we had in our first few games.”
South (2-3, 1-1 CCC) was scheduled to host Miami East on Tuesday, Dec. 19, and will visit Covington on Friday
“I have believed that we’re better than how we’ve played. I’d like to hope that maybe this is taking some steps in the right direction,” Augspurger said.
Trail (4-2, 1-1 CCC) was scheduled to host Tri-County North on Tuesday, Dec. 19 and will host Middletown Madison on Friday, Dec. 22. The junior varsity game will begin at 5 p.m., on Friday night.
Also on Friday night, Trail will honor longtime coach Ed Bell and the 1986 softball team for their achievements. The presentation will take place between the junior varsity and varsity games.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH