By Paul Boggs
Jackson County Times-Journal
OAK HILL — In what’s become a heart-stopping series between the Minford Falcons and Oak Hill Oaks, the Falcons — once again — broke the Oaks’ hearts.
In winning its seventh straight matchup over the Oaks, and in continued down-to-the-wire and hotly-contested fashion, Minford — with Jared McCray’s tie-breaking free throw with only five seconds remaining — managed to escape Oak Hill on Tuesday night with a 51-50 victory in a critical Southern Ohio Conference Division II boys basketball game.
McCray made the first of two shooting-foul free throws for a 51-50 lead, and the Oaks attempted a final fade-away shot at the buzzer that fell just short.
With the win, Minford managed another season sweep of Oak Hill, and set itself up for Friday night’s SOC II championship tilt at Valley.
The Falcons improved to 16-2 overall and 12-1 in the SOC II, while Valley is already assured of at least a share of the league title.
A Minford victory at Valley means, for the second straight season, that the two rivals share the SOC II crown.
The Falcons first, though, had to pull out another thrilling encounter against the tough-minded Oaks.
“It was the same thing last year. We had to come up here and beat Oak Hill last year to get a tie for the SOC II. We had to win here tonight just to get to Valley on Friday and get another share (of SOC II championship),” Minford coach Josh Shoemaker said. “Oak Hill is just tremendously coached and everybody knows that. Their kids play so hard and I was impressed with their kids in both games. Sometimes, you would rather be lucky than good I guess.”
It was a difficult defeat for Oak Hill, which fell to 12-7 overall and 7-6 in the SOC II.
Shoemaker said all seven consecutive wins over Oak Hill have been by five points or less, including two buzzer-beaters, a three-quarter-court heave, and two overtime frames.
Oak Hill head coach Norm Persin said simply, “it’s tough losing to them (Falcons).”
“It is tough. Back-to-back games, the other night over at their place in overtime. We had a shot to win that one and tonight the same thing. It was like a carbon copy, really,” Persin said. “Our kids battled and played so hard, just couldn’t get over the hump.”
On Tuesday, Oak Hill held a 23-16 lead with three minutes remaining in the second quarter, as the Falcons forged a 30-30 tie at the end of the third frame, before facing a 40-34 deficit with 5:55 remaining.
But Minford mustered nine unanswered points to regain the lead two minutes later, as Oak Hill had two missed shots and two turnovers sandwiched around three straight Falcon three-pointers.
Trey Kelley canned a pair for a 40-40 tie, and one by Cody Stapleton put the Falcons in front for good.
“It was a game of runs, Oak Hill pulled ahead like they did in the first game, but we were able to make some threes down the stretch,” Shoemaker said. “Trey Kelley’s two were huge in that run, then Cody Stapleton hits one to give us our lead and then hits another dagger to put us up four.”
Stapleton’s second triple made it 54-50 with only a minute and five seconds to play, as Oak Hill’s Garrin Stiltner scored only 18 seconds later, before teammate Kyle Cox came up with a steal and assist to Jordan Fisher for the 50-50 tie.
The Falcons then held the ball for the final 40 seconds in playing for the last shot, as McCray was fouled underneath in the act of shooting.
He made the first free throw but missed the second, as Kyle Cox’s baseline jumper from 15-feet fell off the rim to seal the Falcons’ win.
McCray making the major free throw was “the same situation as last game”, Shoemaker said.
The Falcons prevailed 59-55 in overtime at Minford Friday night, as Tuesday’s tangle was a makeup game from a month ago.
“The last game, Oak Hill fouled him (McCray), put him on the line for a one-and-one with a tie game. He was able to knock down both free throws and hits two more in overtime. The same thing tonight almost,” Shoemaker said. “For a big man, Jared is the best foul shooter in Southern Ohio. He just does a tremendous job and that’s two games in a row he has had to hit clutch free throws.”
McCray, the six-foot, six-inch powerful post presence who has signed with Ohio University for football, made 3-of-5 free throws along with six field goals for a team-high of 15 points.
He scored six in the first period and five in the second stanza, as Minford held Oak Hill scoreless over a span of four minutes and 30 seconds, while scoring eight unanswered itself and taking a 24-23 lead.
But just 30 seconds later, at the six-minute mark of the third, Cox converted a runner to put the Oaks ahead for the next 10 minutes and seven seconds.
Oak Hill matched Minford basket-for-basket but still trailed by one, when Stapleton sank the three-pointer for the 50-46 advantage.
Stiltner scored 10 of his game-high 18 points in the fourth, finishing with eight total field goals including a pair of threes.
Cox, on five field goals and the team’s two other treys, chipped in with 12.
The Oaks, in taking their initial leads at 10-9 and 12-11, maintained an advantage of anywhere from one to seven over the middle two quarters.
The smaller but quicker Oaks actually outrebounded Minford 25-23, and outshot the Falcons 48-percent (21-of-44) to 42-percent (20-of-48), including a sizzling 17-of-30 (57-percent) from inside the arc.
“I thought we played well. Their size and their trapping in the second half gave us a little problem, but we made an adjustment and got Garrin Stiltner in the middle,” Persin said. “Once we got him in the middle, we found him and he got whatever he wanted. I also thought we battled them on the glass very well.”
“We couldn’t guard them man-to-man. We had to speed them up. If they run offense, they beat us,” he said. “We had to change our strategy a little bit and trap, trying to create turnovers or force them into a quick shot to where we can get a rebound or into transition.”
Now, it’s transitioning on to Valley — for a shot at a second straight SOC II share.
“Valley beat us the first time by five at our place. If we want to share with Valley again, we have to win at their place,” Shoemaker said. “It’s all very fitting how it’s all coming together.”
Oak Hill, meanwhile, hosts Portsmouth West on Friday night in its SOC II finale.
Minford 11 9 11 20 — 51
Oak Hill 10 13 10 17 — 50
Minford — McCray 6-3-15, Stapleton 2-0-6, Alley 1-0-2, Rowe 3-0-6, Justice 1-0-2, Kelley 4-0-11, Gullion 3-3-9, Totals 20-6-51.
Oak Hill — Harrison 2-2-6, Stiltner 8-0-18, Cox 5-0-12, Fisher 3-2-8, Fleming 3-0-6, Totals 21-4-50.
3-Point Goals — Minford 5 (Kelley 3, Stapleton 2); Oak Hill 4 (Stiltner 2, Cox 2).
Records — Minford 16-2 (12-1); Oak Hill 12-7 (7-6).