Growing up, you learn that hard work pays off. This certainly was true for a determined team of basketball players that seemed to be at the disadvantage.

The Oak Hill Oaks returned to the Division III Southeast District Tournaments at the Ohio University Convocation Center Sunday for the first time since winning district against Eastern Brown in 2013. The Oaks went toe-to-toe against the Paint Valley Bearcats. Oak Hill came in with a record of 22-1, a better record than their opponent who had 16 wins and eight losses after making it through sectionals.

It was a quick first quarter with Paint Valley’s Bryce Newland hitting a three at the start. Landon Carroll answered with two, but Andrew Brauner made a strong push for the Bearcats, scoring a two and adding a free throw followed by a second two to help Paint Valley take an early 10-4 advantage. Oak Hill’s Nolan Carroll tried to even the score with a shot from behind the arc, but Paint Valley lit up the scoreboard with repeated baskets from Dylan Swingle. Paint Valley finished the first quarter ahead by a 16-12 count.

In the second frame of action, Wes Mullett, Mitchell Hale and Nolan Carroll all hit shots from behind the arc, but the 6-11 Swingle proved to be a hard cover defensively. At the half, Swingle led all scorers with 13 points, but the Oaks held the point, 29-28, heading into the halftime break.

As the third quarter of play commenced, Hale scored a bucket off of a strong drive. However, it seemed as if no matter how many points Hale, Mullett and Nolan Carroll added for the Oaks, Swingle would find a way to come up with the answer by using his large frame to cause significant problems on the interior.

“It’s two different types of teams,” Oak Hill head coach NormPersin said. “We’re a perimeter type of team with how our guards play. With Swingle in there, it just causes so many problems. I really thought our kids battled him in there. Even when he missed shots, he was right there. He’s so big and thick and strong. He was just getting offensive rebounds and putting them back up. I think we did a real good job containing their perimeter guys all night. And we didn’t want them to hit threes, hurting us, but we played in spurts. Really, when we got up eight, we did crazy things. We turned the ball over. We forced shots. I thought when it was 38-30 we were going to make a run and do some of the things we wanted to do, but it didn’t happen.”

In the fourth quarter of play, it proved to be anyone’s contest. Less than two minutes into the period, Swingle helped bring Paint Valley back into the fray, tying the score with a powerful slam dunk.

With four minutes left in the game, Landon Carroll’s speed helped the Oaks drive the ball down the court. However, getting the ball past the towering giant of a Bearcat was also a difficulty. The team looked to Hale’s three-point ability to keep them in the lead. With just over two minutes remaining, Swingle shot and took the lead for Paint Valley, and kept going to the 6-11 junior in their halfcourt sets as the Bearcats rode the clock.

Even though Paint Valley held a 46-44 lead with 50 seconds remaining, Oak Hill never quit despite the circumstances.

Landon Carroll proved that factoid to be a truthful one, as the 6-2 junior let it fly from the right corner with two seconds remaining and clinched the Oaks’ berth into Saturday’s district championship affair with his trey. The subsequent three-point attempt by Drake Purdum on the other end glanced off of the left side of the backboard as time expired, which gave Oak Hill the dramatic 47-46 victory.

“The last shot that we hit we just didn’t want to call a time out because we figured if they called a timeout they would foul us because they had some fouls to give… I really wanted a three to be shot because I thought at that point in time we just wanted to win the game,” Persin said. “And, Landon, anytime Landon takes a shot like that, he’s capable of making it. We had a big one from Nolan Carroll last weekend, and we got one from Landon Carroll this weekend. So, our kids are really destined (to play in the district finals). They play really hard, and they do a great job.”

With Chillicothe Southeastern awaiting Oak Hill in the Division III, Athens II District Finals, Persin knows that Oak Hill will have to take care of some key points going forward if the Oaks hope to extinguish a red-hot Panthers’ ballclub.

“We’ve just got to play better,” Persin said. “I think that the farther you go in a tournament, the second time you get here, you just play a little bit better. So, we’ll see.”