LUCASVILLE — The flu epidemic, floating around bad enough in Scioto County, closed Valley Local Schools among others on Friday.
But the host Indians, in Friday night’s Southern Ohio Conference Division II tilt against Eastern, looked — and played — very much alive and well.
Valley scored the opening eight points and never trailed, grounded the Eagles to only six first-period points, and extended its advantage to as large as 22 twice in the third quarter —en route to routing Eastern 59-40 on The Reservation.
With the victory, the young Indians completed the season sweep of the Eagles, which are completing their debut boys basketball season in the SOC II.
Valley, in also scoring 59 points against the Eagles again, raised its record to 8-10 — and to 6-6 in the division.
The Indians indeed are improving, overcoming injuries and roster changes, to be playing some of their better basketball of the season.
Valley head coach Eric Horton ranked Friday night’s outing “right up there”.
Horton also explained that the Indians are learning to gel together at the right time — and after losing freshman impact player Carter Nickel to injury.
“Carter went down four or five games ago, and it has taken us that long to adjust without him in the lineup. We knew we were going to put it together before the end of the season. Tonight was a big step forward for us,” said the coach. “We were able to interchange guys and go with different lineups. No matter who we had out there, we were able to move the ball and find the right guy and get good looks. Some nights, we haven’t made those shots. But tonight, those went in. When we make our shots, we feel we’re going to be a very hard team to beat.”
In limiting the Eagles to only a Neil Leist three-point play and a Dillon Mattox three-pointer in the first quarter, Valley locked down defensively —not allowing a single solitary point in the first five minutes.
Then, after Eastern got to within 17-15 at the 5:37 mark of the second quarter following first-quarter deficits of six (12-6) and seven points (10-3), the Indians ended the half on a 16-3 run to lead 33-18 at halftime.
In the third frame, Valley built the lead to 22 points twice —at 45-23 with 2:14 to play and 47-25 just 25 seconds later.
The Indians’ advantage never dipped below four points for the final 23 minutes and 15 seconds, as only a Drake Ferguson old-fashioned three-point play prevented the Eagles from being shut out in the final 5:37 of the second quarter.
The Indians’ defense indeed did the job, holding Eastern to only 40 points —and prolific scorer Hunter Cochenour to only eight over the middle two cantos.
“We wanted to limit them to one possession, and I thought if we could get it down to a half-court game, our defense would show up and it did,” said Horton. “We held them to 40 points, which is outstanding.”
Cochenour and Leist led the Eagles with eight points apiece, but Cochenour had half of his points from the free-throw line on six attempts — and Leist didn’t score in the second half.
“We want to pride ourselves on our defense and be a defensive team first. There are going to be nights where the ball doesn’t go in the basket for you, so you have to rely on something. From day one when I got here last year, we’ve wanted to be a good physical defensive team. The officials ‘let us play’ tonight, which I love. It was physical on both ends. They have some kids which can shoot the ball, including Cochenour who is an outstanding player,” said Horton. “We rotated a couple of guys on him, we were very conscious of running him off the circle, and making him drive the ball inside and not let him stand out there and shoot. We were able to accomplish that. I don’t know what we held Cochenour to, but we had somebody in his pocket all night long and that’s what we wanted to do. We physically made it tough on them to drive the ball and we closed down their shooters. If you can do both of those things, the other team is going to have a tough night offensively.”
Meanwhile, the Indians also exhibited excellent ball movement —whether it was running the fast break or working the ball inside.
George Arnett, another freshman, finished as one of three Indians in double figures — and as the contest’s leading scorer.
Arnett amounted eight total field goals and 2-of-3 free throws for 19 points, 11 of which were after halftime.
His three-point goal made it 17-11 a minute-and-a-half into the second stanza.
While the Indians often rely on their underclassmen, their two seniors — Kayden Mollette and Mason Zaler — were go-to guys against Eastern.
Mollette scored a dozen of his 15 points in the opening half, driving to the basket for five deuces — before popping a trey with a minute and five seconds remaining before halftime to make it 31-18.
Zaler —the six-foot five-inch center —added 11 points on three field goals and 5-of-7 free throws.
He scored easy inside on the opening possession, followed by a two and a three by Jared Gahm to make it 8-0.
“We came right out and executed a play for Mason (Zaler) right off the bat that resulted in an easy basket. That just set the tone for us,” said Horton.
Bryce Stuart, the six-foot sophomore, scored five points as well on a basket and 3-of-4 free throws — while freshman Ty Perkins posted the pair of buckets which went for the two 22-point leads.
The Eagles fell to 6-12 and 3-10, and host SOC II co-leader Waverly (11-1 in SOC II) on Tuesday night.
Valley, meanwhile, returns to the road —and returns to SOC II action —on Tuesday night at Portsmouth West.
Perhaps the Indians are poised for a strong run in February — after ending January quite alert and well.
“It feels real good to see these guys starting to put things together both defensively and offensively,” said Horton. “You want to try to have your team in the best possible position to go in and play its best basketball at tournament time. Tonight was a giant leap forward for us in doing that. Those top eight guys are just doing a tremendous job right now.”
* * *
Eastern 6 12 10 12 — 40
Valley 12 21 14 12—59
EASTERN 40 (6-12, 3-10 SOC II)
Trenton Brown 0 0-0 0, Drake Ferguson 1 1-1 3, Dillon Mattox 2 0-0 5, Gabe McBee 1 2-2 4, Hunter Cochenour 2 4-6 8, Neil Leist 3 1-1 8, Brennen Slusher 1 0-0 3, Chase Carter 2 2-2 7, Ethan Perry 0 0-0 0, Bailey Strong 0 0-0 0, Jake Tribby 1 0-4 2; TOTALS 13 10-16 40; Three-point goals: 4 (Dillon Mattox, Neil Leist, Brennen Slusher and Chase Carter 1 apiece)
VALLEY 59 (8-10, 6-6 SOC II)
George Arnett 8 2-3 19, Brecken Williams 0 0-0 0, Ty Perkins 2 0-0 4, Colt Buckle 0 0-0 0, Kayden Mollette 6 2-3 15, Jared Gahm 2 0-0 5, Jacob Greathouse 0 0-0 0, Bryce Stuart 1 3-4 5, Nick Mowery 0 0-0 0, Mason Zaler 3 5-7 11; TOTALS 22 12-17 59; Three-point goals: 3 (George Arnett Kayden Mollette and Jared Gahm 1 apiece)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved