Rollin’ on the River

BYESVILLE – There will be no three-peat in Ohio Division IV boys’ basketball this season.

River made sure of that here Saturday afternoon by dethroning two-time defending state champion Hiland, 56-49, in an overtime District Championship Game thriller before a noisy packed house at Meadowbrook High School.

The much-cherished victory – the Pilots’ 19th in 26 decisions – gives the Monroe County quint its third trip to the regionals, but first since back-to-back trips in 1988-89 under the legendary R.L. Potts.

River will now face upstart Youngstown Christian, the No. 8 seed in the Struthers District, Tuesday night at 6:15 inside the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse. The Eagles defeated Wellsville Friday night.

“This is just great,” River head coach Mark Romick beamed while holding his granddaughter. “It’s great for the kids. It’s great for our fans. We had a great turnout. We’re going to the regional.”

Thirty-two minutes couldn’t decide the tussle as the teams were deadlocked at 48. However, the free-throw stripe proved to be beneficial to River as District 12 Player of the Year Brett Price put the finishing touches on perhaps his best game ever in a Pilots’ uniform.

Price, the sweet-shooting senior meshed all six of his attempts to push his game-high point total to 31.

However, it was the last of his five assists that led to the lone field goal of the extra 5-minute session, and proved to be the dagger that the Hawks wouldn’t recover from.

Trapped along his own baseline with time running down and facing a 10-second call, the heads-up Price knew someone had to be open.

“I turned around and saw four black jerseys around me,” he said amidst a wild celebration by the large following of River faithful. “I knew someone was open and I just saw Cody (Caldwell) all alone at the other end of the court.”

Flinging the ball with all his might, it took two bounces to reach the awaiting Caldwell, who deposited it off the glass for a 54-48 advantage with a mere 37 seconds left.

In addition to his 31 points, Price grabbed game honors with a dozen rebounds. He also stuffed the stat sheet with five assists, a like number of steals and added a pair of blocked shots to boot.

“I didn’t realize I had that many rebounds or the other stats,” Price said when asked if he’s ever played a better all-around game. “I guess so, then. It was a big game.”

And big-time players step up in big-time games.

“I’ve said all along that Brett is a gamer,” Romick said of his senior standout. “We told him after the first quarter that he was going to have to take the game over if we were going to win, and he did just that.”

It didn’t look like the Pilots would be able to navigate their way past the battle-tested Hawks (20-8), who broke out to an early 14-2 lead and led 14-5 after one period.

“Hiland’s good,” Romick added. “We knew that coming in. We knew they were going to play disciplined basketball. They are fundamentally sound in all phases, so you can’t make mistakes.

“We got down early, but we battled our butts off,” he continued. “We told the kids to hang in there and we’d make some shots … keep shooting.”

However, a change in defenses by the OVAC 3-A squad changed the game. Switching from their patented man-to-man to a 1-3-1 halfcourt trap gave the Holmes County five some trouble, especially in that momentum-changing eight minutes.

“(Assistant) Coach (Gard) Curtis is kind of a guru when it comes to basketball,” Romick noted. “He was with Coach Potts for years and years. There’s probably not a man around that knows more basketball than Gard Curtis. He watches the game and is a student of it. He’s a technician is what he is.”

Romick agreed that the move gave Hiland some fits.

“It made their passing lanes longer and it got them to throw the ball over top of us, which allowed us to get some hands on balls and deflect them out of bounds. We didn’t get many turnovers, but it disrupted them,” he added.

Veteran Hiland head coach Mark Schlabach didn’t necessarily agree, but he didn’t disagree.

“It took us a little while to get adjusted,” he said of the switch in defenses. “We didn’t really turn it over a lot, especially in the second half against it, but more than that, we couldn’t get the stops when we needed to. We couldn’t stop Price, especially when he got to the foul line.”

Included in Price’s outstanding effort was a nifty 16-for-19 showing from the foul line.

“I haven’t really been shooting that well from the foul line, but today I just concentrated and made them,” Price, who tickled the twine on his last eight attempts, said.

River trailed 25-21 at the half and 36-33 after three periods, but used a 15-12 scoring advantage to pull even at the end of regulation.

Both teams had chances in the waning seconds of regulation, but River missed a shot with 10 ticks showing, but, after a Hiland timeout, the Hawks threw the ball away with 3.4 on the clock, but Price’s desperation heave from near midcourt was off the mark, giving the huge crowd some bonus basketball.

Caldwell scored nine points, while Jordan Indermuhle added seven markers and 10 boards. Evan Eggleston, another senior, had four huge points off the bench.

“Everyone contributed today in one way or another,” Romick said. “That’s what we need.”

Todd Ropp, the only Hawks player to see playing time on the back-to-back state championship squads, poured in 22 points and hauled down nine rebounds. Jordan Yoder added 11 markers.

River had 13 turnovers, but six of those came in the first quarter. Hiland finished with 16, with 11 of those coming after the halftime break.

HILAND (49) – J. Yoder 4-13 1-2 11; Schlabach 0-3 1-2 1; Miller 0-3 0-0 0; Ropp 7-16 5-8 22; Chupp 1-3 0-0 2; Blochlinger 0-4 0-0 0; Mast 2-4 0-0 5; Coil 3-6 2-3 8; Jos. Phillips 0-0 0-0 0; Totals: 17-53 9-15. RIVER (56) – Price 6-15 16-19 31; Brown 1-1 0-1 2; J. Indermuhle 3-4 1-1 7; Marconi 1-8 0-0 2; Caldwell 4-11 0-0 9; Ch. Isaly 0-0 0-0 0; Dierkes 0-0 0-0 0; Eggleston 2-3 0-0 4; Totals: 17-42 17-21.

Three-Point Goals: Hiland 6 (Ropp 3, J. Yoder 2, Mast); River 5 (Price 3, Marconi, Caldwell)

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