THE PLAINS, Ohio - It wasn't a masterful win, but a win nonetheless Tuesday night for Belpre as the Golden Eagles' front line led the way in a 43-32 Division III sectional tournament victory over River Valley at Athens High School.
No. 7 seed Belpre, now 13-9, survived and moved on, and will now face second-seeded Zane Trace at 3 p.m. here Saturday in a sectional final contest. Zane Trace knocked the Golden Eagles out of the tournament in their first game last year.
Belpre began Tuesday's game with four straight baskets for an 8-0 lead at the 2:34 mark of the first quarter, but didn't score again in the period and were only ahead 8-4 heading to the second stanza.
A 10-0 run after the 10th-seeded Raiders (3-20) closed the gap to 8-6 propelled Belpre out to an 18-6 advantage at 3:06 of the second quarter, and the Golden Eagles were up 20-10 at the half.
Dakota Hoffman, who shared Belpre scoring honors with Ryan Leasure and Nick Therriault with 10 points each, popped in two treys in the third quarter, the second 3-ball giving the Golden Eagles a 16-point bulge, 30-14, midway through the period, and they held a 14-point lead, 33-19, going to the fourth quarter.
River Valley made things interesting for a while, though, in the final eight minutes. A trey by Tyler Twyman cut the margin to just nine, 33-24. But an 8-0 Belpre spurt on buckets by Leasure, Sam Petty and Therriault and two foul shots by Hoffman pushed the lead out to 17 at 41-24 with 2:41 to play.
However, a pair of Raider 3-balls again sliced the deficit down, this time to 41-30 at the 1:52 mark before two Leasure free throws made it 43-30 with 1:09 left, and River Valley got a final field goal with only 35.5 seconds to go
Bryce Pittenger added eight points and Petty netted five, while Twyman's 10 points paced the Raiders, followed by Johnathan Qualls and Seann Roberts with eight each.
''I'm actually thrilled that we got this game,'' said second-year Belpre head coach Jordan Thornhill. ''We started off the game the way we wanted to, but just never could put the nail in the coffin. River Valley made it a game the whole time; it was never really in hand.''
One of the Raiders' three wins came at the expense of Belpre back on Dec. 28. ''But we're a lot different team now than back then,'' said Thornhill. ''We have a senior-dominated team and it's their last ride, so we're going to get the most out of those kids, that's for sure.''
Thornhill liked not only the inside scoring of Pittenger, Therriault and Leasure, but especially their tenacity on the boards all game long. ''And we have to have those guys show up and play well for us to be a good team,'' said Thornhill.