ATHENS — For a moment Saturday evening, it looked as if Valley’s improbable tournament run would continue its story.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Indians managed to cut Alexander’s once double-digit lead to just four at 41-37. But in the end, there just wasn’t enough magic left in the tank for another upset.
In a 47-40 loss in a Division III district semifinal at Ohio University’s Convocation Center, Valley (9-16) saw its season end.
But remember, the No. 10 Indians were never supposed to play in Athens from the start. They beat a No. 7 seed and a No. 2 seed to get there.
“Anytime you can get [to the Convo], it’s a good feeling,” Valley coach Eric Horton said. “We trusted ourselves and our team. The guys trusted each other and their coaches. So we were able to pull off a couple of upsets and get here. We climbed an uphill battle for three straight games.”
Unfortunately, Saturday’s uphill climb was simply too steep. Alexander (16-8) came out hot, building an early 11-4 lead. From there, the Indians competed but never led.
“[Alexander] came out and shot the ball extremely well,” Horton said. “I kept telling the kids, ‘This is not normal. They’re going to miss some shots.’ We tried to get out in transition, which is where we play our best at. But when a team makes as many as they made early, it’s hard to overcome. When a team like that plays well, they’re hard to beat.”
Valley’s Andrew Shope was hard to stop.
The senior ended his career with a magnificent 17-point performance. He was crisp, hit shots when his teammates needed them most and kept the Indians in the ballgame.
“When we got late in the game, they were doing a lot of things defensively to take away our motion offense,” Horton said. “I just made the decision that if we’re going to get this done, it’s going to be with our seniors. That changed our offense and put the ball in Shope’s hands.”
With the loss, the Indians say goodbye to three seniors in Shope, Tanner Cunningham and Koltan Bauez.
“To the program, I don’t know if I can put into words what they’ve meant this year to us,” Horton said. “I’m their third coach in four years. They’ve went through changes in philosophy, changes in the system, offense, defenses … everything under the sun. They really progressed this season and for the future, they’ve built a solid foundation.”
Shope led all scorers with 17 points alongside three rebounds and four assists. Kayden Mollette had nine points, Cunningham added five and Mason Zaler scored four points and brought down six rebounds.
Caleb Terry led the Spartans with 12 points and seven rebounds while J.K. Kearns, Stone Markins and Dylan Mecum all had seven points apiece. Kam Riley also helped out, scoring nine points.