ATHENS — After coming back from a 12-point third-quarter deficit to defeat the Racine Southern Tornadoes’ boys basketball program en route to winning a sectional title in Meigs by a 46-44 tally, it would’ve been hard-pressed to find a more thrilling manner to win a basketball game.
However, we’re talking about the South Webster Jeeps’ boys basketball program here — a program that is simply fueled by adrenaline as the stakes rise.
Down by a 10-point margin (33-23) with less than four minutes to play in the third quarter against the New Boston Tigers’ boys basketball program, a person, in basically a Spike Lee-type manner, yelled “Bury ‘Em!” from the stands, which, even as loud as the Convo can be with crowd noise and the PA system all factored into the mix, caught the attention of everyone on the South Webster bench.
“I don’t know if it was someone in the stands or what, but someone just yelled, ‘Bury ‘em!’ South Webster head coach Brenton Cole said. “And they weren’t talking in favor of us, either. They were wanting New Boston to bury us. I don’t know where it came from, but I think our boys heard that, and went ‘What?’ That’s when they really started to take things personal. That was really what sparked us.”
And that was certainly evident over the remaining 9:30 of the contest as South Webster used an 11-1 third-quarter rally — aided by two huge Jacob Ruth free throws with a tenth of a second to play in the frame — to tie the score at 34 apiece.
Then, when New Boston, behind gritty efforts from Drake Truitt and Kade Conley, opened the lead back up to a six-point cushion (41-35) with just over four minutes left in the game, rallied with a 13-0 run the rest of the way, which reached its climax when Braden Bockway nailed a jumper from the top of the circle falling away to tie the score with 2:15 to go, and a second, similar-looking jump shot from the right wing — again, falling away, to give South Webster the lead for good with 1:28 to play in a thrilling 48-41 affair between two passionate programs and fanbases in a Division IV, Athens I District Semifinal at the Convocation Center in Athens.
For Cole, the finish was so thrilling that the first-year head coach still was trying to catch his breath and make sense of what had happened a good 20 minutes after the thrilling district semi reached its end.
“Good grief,” Cole said. “We just stayed with our gameplan, and were tenacious on defense getting boards. We came down there to the end, and it just seemed like if we could get that little bit of a push over the hill, it was going to be ours. Braden stepped in, hit a couple of big shots for us, and gave us the push that we needed to get over that hump. “I can’t say enough about my boys. Everything that they bring to practice and everything that they bring to games is tremendous.”
In the opening half of play, both teams traded more than their fair share of counterpunches, with the first quarter being the best example of the trend.
In all, both teams battled to four lead changes and four ties during the opening quarter of action, with the best players on the floor — Kade Conley and Shiloah Blevins — taking charge. Both players fought their way for four points while New Boston’s Drake Truitt added four additional points for the Tigers on tough, gritty finishes.
However, at the end of the quarter, both teams battled to a 12-12 first-quarter tie after threes were exchanged between New Boston’s Tyler Caldwell and South Webster’s Devyn Coriell, with the latter’s hitting every part of the rim before dropping with 14 seconds to go.
In the second quarter, Conley, however, took matters into his own hands. After New Boston’s Tyler Caldwell hit a free throw and the Tigers’ Alex Mead scored on a low-post opportunity, the 6-1 senior point guard scored eight points in the second frame to keep New Boston in control during the half. Ruth proved to be big for South Webster as his six points allowed the Jeeps to tie the score at 18 apiece, but the Tigers countered Ruth’s efforts with excellent play around their 6-1 standout as Truitt’s six points, along with great play from Caldwell and Mead, allowed New Boston to obtain a 24-21 lead over South Webster at halftime.
As the third quarter began to get rolling, New Boston’s offense began to roll in fine fashion. Kyle McQuithy opened up the frame with the first of his two huge second-half treys, and Conley, Caldwell, and Truitt all used their crafty play, basketball IQ’s, and will to fight inside for baskets that put the Tigers up by the 33-23 margin off of its 9-2 run to start the quarter.
However, South Webster matched the efforts of New Boston’s elder statesmen with brilliant play from its junior leaders in Blevins and Ruth. Blevins, at 6-5, used his abnormally quick leaping ability to snag rebounds out of the air en route to scoring six huge points in a row for the Jeeps, while Holstein added a layup to quickly turn the 10-point deficit to a mere 33-29 margin with just over two minutes to play.
“Anyone that checked in knew what was at stake and knew what we wanted to do,” Cole said. “The guys brought everything that they had and didn’t leave anything to chance. I keep asking them to do it, and they keep bringing it.”
With less than a minute left in the third quarter, play intensified again as Andrew Smith, after two additional strong defensive possessions from South Webster, canned a huge trey to draw the Jeeps within one before Kyle Sexton split a pair of free throws with less than five seconds left in the quarter to push the New Boston lead back up to a two-point margin.
Ruth, however, wasn’t going to settle for any kind of deficit. Seeing an opening after sprinting ahead on Sexton’s missed free throw attempt with 4.1 seconds to play, the junior hit the gas and got all the way to the rim en route to drawing a foul right under the rim with just one-tenth of a second left on the third quarter clock. Cool, calm, and collected the entire time, the gritty 5-9 guard nailed both free throws with ease to tie the score at 34 after three quarters of play.
“Jacob was outstanding on both ends of the floor,” Cole said. “On the defensive end, he was stepping up, boxing people out, and getting rebounds. When he saw the driving lane come open, he took it and went inside to get layups. He really stepped up.”
New Boston, however, said not so fast.
Despite the 11-1 barrage by South Webster to end the third frame, it was the Tigers who came out with the guns blazing in the fourth and final frame as Truitt continued his strong play by adding four points while McQuithy added his second three-ball of the affair into the mix to put New Boston up by a 41-35 count.
But with the game hanging in the balance, Blevins, Ruth, and Bockway took over. After Blevins got on the pogo stick once again en route to scoring again down low, Ruth added a layup to cut the New Boston down to just 41-39 with 2:44 to play.
Then Bockway took matters into his own hands.
After a critical stop by South Webster, Cole and Co., knowing that the Tigers were downplaying the threat of Bockway’s silky-smooth jumpshot by going under screen after screen.
With room to operate and a light so green that it could be mistaken for the Wayne National Forest, Bockway got to his sweet spot on two consecutive possessions, let two 18-foot jumpers fly, and canned both of them while falling away to give the Jeeps the lead, 43-41, with 1:28 to play.
“We had been playing it with Shiloah coming off of a screen, and we knew that the guy that was going under kept going under and kept going under,” Cole said. “When I checked him back it, I said, ‘Hey, go out there and make shots.’”
Still, Bockway, Blevins, and Ruth weren’t done impacting the game.
When New Boston hurried back up the floor, Bockway returned a low post shot to sender by swatting the ball well out of bounds, then again provided excellent low post defense by perfectly contesting a shot on the left block that sailed wide of the rim.
Blevins leaped high for the board en route to gobbling up the enusing rebound, and Blevins, along with Ruth, nailed five critical free throws in six attempts to seal the deal on a game-ending 13-0 run. The trio had just combined for 36 of South Webster’s 48 points (Blevins 17, Ruth 12, Bockway 7), while Holstein’s six points and three points each from Coriell and Smith were also huge in the win.
“It says so much about Shiloah when he, with 75 seconds left, still has the energy to go up and rip down a rebound that essentially sealed the deal for us,” Cole said. “He has been so critical with his effort. His motor is always running. And we don’t have a senior on the team. Jacob and Shiloah, as juniors, are our leaders. They really rose above today.”
With the victory, South Webster (10-15) clinched its spot in the Division IV, Athens II District Finals for the second straight season. The Jeeps will play Coal Grove on Saturday at 12 p.m. for the right to advance onto regional play.
“Coal Grove’s a great team,” Cole said. “They’re physical. They have big kids that can run the floor. It’s going to be a real test for us, but I like my team going into any situation. We’ll see what happens.”
New Boston, who finished the year with an outstanding 16-8 overall record in Adam Cox’s first season as the head coach, made amazing strides in 2017-18 after only winning six games over the prior three seasons. Conley, who led the Tigers with a 14-point outing on Sunday, will depart the program, along with Truitt (12 points), McQuithy (six points), Eddie Phipps, Jacob Darby, Chandler Ruggles, and Bryce Davis as New Boston certainly proved to all in attendance that it is back as a competitive basketball program on a high stage.
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT