River, Linsly set to clash in 2A

Unchartered waters for River.

That’s where the Pilots have navigated themselves.

Mark Romick’s top-seeded club (14-5) will meet No. 2 seed Linsly (12-8) Saturday afternoon at 12:15 for the Wheeling Hospital OVAC Boys’ Basketball Class 2A Championship at Ohio University Eastern’s Health and Physical Education Building just west of St. Clairsville.

To earn their berths in the championship encounter, River had to flow past No. 4 Shadyside, 55-36, in one semifinal Tuesday night, while Linsly outlasted No. 3 Steubenville Central in an overtime thriller, 74-68.

This will be the Monroe Countians first appearance in the local version of the ‘big dance,’ while the Wheeling-based Cadets are making their second trip to the finals, losing a heartbreaker to Shadyside in the 2008 title tilt in triple overtime.

“At the first of the year we set some goals as a team,” Romick explained. “One of them was to win the OVAC and here we are.”

River qualified for the tournament last year, but was bounced by county rival Monroe Central in the semis.

“Right now we’ve got a chance to realize that goal and some others,” he continued, adding that the PVC and Division IV sectional titles were on that list. “The kids are playing pretty well right now.”

Linsly head coach James Wallace said his team has been progressing all year, and reaching the title game is the end result.

“We didn’t start off very well this year,” he recalled. “Trinity kind of really took it to us in that first game, but since then we’ve been committed to getting better every day, be it in practice or in games.

“This is the time of the year to be playing your best basketball and I feel we are doing that right now. I feel pretty good with the way we’re playing,” he added.

The Pilots are led by a starting crew of juniors, with 6-1 Brett Price topping a trio of twin-digit scorers with a 15.5 norm. He had 21 in Tuesday night’s triumph, including a pair of key triples that allowed his team to pull away from the Tigers late in the third quarter.

“Brett really worked hard on his game over the summer,” Romick revealed. “He’s a scorer that can get a bunch of points in a hurry. He feeds off of that and his game has developed over the course of the year.”

Also reaching double figures on a nightly basis are 6-2 Cody Caldwell (12.5) and 6-5 Jordan Indermuhle (11.6).

“Cody is a perimeter threat,” Romick added. “He’s very athletic as he plays quarterback in football. His skills have improved as the year has progressed.

“Jordan has pretty much been a model of consistency,” Romick noted. “He averages 11 (points) and 11 (rebounds) for us. He cleans the boards and has been a steady force in the paint.”

The remaining two starters are 6-3 Evan Eggleston (2.6) and 5-9 Matt Marconi (8.1), who runs the show from the point.

“Matt has steadily gotten better,” Romick allowed. “He’s a very good shooter and leads the team in field goal percentage. He doesn’t take too many bad shots.”

Marconi backed his coach’s thoughts against Shadyside when he knocked down a pair of quarter-ending buzzer-beaters (second and third).

One thing people might not know about Marconi is that he is also a lights-out defender, according to his head coach.

“He usually draws the opposition’s top scorer, so he’ll have his hands full Saturday.”

Eggleston gives the Pilots another huge body inside, while Kameron Brown (2.5) and Chad Isaly (3.3) give quality minutes off the bench.

“Kam came in the other night and played super defensively,” Romick said of Brown’s half-a-dozen steals. “He also got his hands on a couple of loose balls that we kept alive and eventually wound up with.”

When asked about Saturday’s opponent, Romick kind of rolled his eyes.

“We went to watch them play and they are a very athletic bunch. Akil (Blount) and (Anthony) Wallace are great athletes and very good players,” he praised. “But they have other players who are athletic. They can all handle the basketball and they can all shoot it.

“They like to play that up-tempo game, so defensively, they are going to be a real challenge for us,” he continued.”

The aforementioned Blount (6-4) is the oldest of the two sons of former Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive back Mel Blount that suit up for the Cadets. The Florida A&M football recruit averages 20 points and 10 rebounds a game.

“His numbers speak for themselves,” Wallace said. “He’s a great scorer and great rebounder, but this season he has had to assume the role of team leader as it’s him and a bunch of freshmen and sophomores, basically.

“He’s done a great job of bringing the younger kids around. His leadership has been way more than important that any basket he scored or any rebound he pulled down.”

Sophomores Anthony Wallace (6-3) and Jameson Murray (5-9) are also two players that their coach spoke highly of.

“Anthony is an extremely talented young man who works very hard and is a very good defensive player. “Jameson is a little undersized but he brings a lot of hustle and desire. He does a lot of things that go unnoticed in the newspaper or on the stat sheets.”

The starting five is rounded out by a pair of freshmen in Jibri Blount (6-4) and Toddy Goodwin-Rowe (5-10).

Jibri, like Akil, is very talented and athletic,” Wallace offered. “He’s gotten a lot better as the season has progressed, while Toddy has started every game for us at point guard, which is tough to do as a freshman.”