WAVERLY — If the glass slipper fits, why not go ahead and wear it?
After knocking off No. 7 seed Paint Valley on Monday by a 58-44 final, Valley’s boys entered Friday’s Division III sectional final against No. 2 seed Eastern Brown with nothing to lose.
Playing under minimal pressure must suit the Indians quite well because after beating the Bearcats, Valley handed the Warriors a 45-42 loss to embrace a Cinderella role. The Indians are headed back to Ohio University’s Convocation Center for the first time since 2016.
“According to the seedings, this an upset, and according to the records, this is an upset,” Valley coach Eric Horton said of Friday’s win. “Any statistic you look at, on paper, [Eastern Brown] was supposed to beat us. But our kids believed. We did everything we needed to do to win the game and we held on for dear life at the end to win it.”
Once down 20-8, the Warriors (16-6) gave a comeback attempt their best shot in the second half. But with almost every bucket or momentum burst Eastern Brown took, Valley (9-15) seemed to punch right back.
That charge was led by another unsung hero in Kayden Mollette.
While Valley’s Andrew Shope and Tanner Cunningham have shouldered most of the team’s scoring duties all year long, over the past two games, Tyler Mitchell and Kayden Mollette have stepped up in big ways.
Friday, Mollette scored a team-high 15 points while getting much-needed help in the final eight minutes from Mason Zaler … who scored all eight of his points in the fourth.
“Offensively, we were able to execute and got some good looks,” Horton said. “Mollette stepped up tonight. We seem to have a different guy step up every night. That was Mollette tonight. We needed every bit of it at the end. In the fourth quarter, [Eastern Brown] kept trying to push and, anytime that happens, it opens some things up on the backside. Zaler got some easy buckets because of that and kept them from making a real serious run.”
Tale of the tape
Valley took its first lead when Mollette hit a 3 at the 4:01 mark in the first quarter, going up 3-2. From that point forward, the Indians never trailed. On the heels of a bucket from Cunningham and a deep ball from Shope, Valley took a 9-2 lead into the second.
The Indians used the second to turn their seven-point lead into an 11-point lead at halftime, going into the break leading 20-9. Keeping Eastern Brown’s offense under wraps was a goal of Valley’s, a goal the Indians certainly accomplished throughout the first 16 minutes.
In the third, after Mollette hit a 3 with 4:14 to go, the Indians had a 25-18 lead. Eastern Brown, however, went on a 5-0 run to cut the lead to 25-23 before heading to the fourth down 30-26.
Zaler scored with 7:27 left in regulation, pushing the lead back to six, before scoring again with 3:28 left to give Valley a 40-31 advantage. He got another bucket with 1:43 left, making it 44-35.
But the Warriors wouldn’t go away.
In the final 1:30, the Warriors gave it all they had and then some, ripping off a 7-1 run to close things out. But in the end, the Indians did enough to preserve the lead … and the win.
Mollette led Valley with 15 points while Shope added 11 points and four rebounds. Zaler ended with eight points and seven rebounds, and Cunningham had nine points and six boards.
Eastern Brown’s Titus Burns led the Warriors in scoring with 14 points alongside six rebounds. Gage Boone also helped out with 12 points while Colton Vaughn added six points, eight rebounds and two assists.
What’s on tap
Valley advances to a Division III district semifinal against either Fairland or Alexander at Ohio University’s Convocation Center. That contest is slated for an 8:15 p.m. tip on March 2.
“I have not looked much at either Fairland or Alexander, outside of looking at who we had a chance to play,” Horton said. “We’ll go up and watch those two play and get some eyes on then. We have a full week to prepare. I don’t know that any of our kids have experienced the Convo. So it’ll be a new experience for everybody involved. We’re enjoying this together, as a group.”
Valley: 9-11-10-18 — 45
Eastern Brown: 2-7-17-18 — 42
Valley: 17-34 FG, 4-13 FT, 7-15 3pt. (Shope 3, Mollette 3), 23 rebounds (Zaler 7), 12 turnovers, 6 assists (Shope 3). Scoring: Mollette 15, Shope 11, Zaler 9, Cunningham 9, Mitchell 1.
Eastern Brown: 16-49 FG, 7-9 FT, 3-19 3pt. (Boone 2), 25 rebounds (Vaughn 10), 8 turnovers, 3 assists (Vaughn 2). Scoring: Burns 14, Boone 12, Hamilton 7, Vaughn 6, Wilgs 3.