NELSONVILLE — Nelsonville-York’s 63-50 win over Meigs on Tuesday night was important on face value alone. The victory keeps them in the thick of the Tri-Valley Conference — Ohio race while improving their positioning for postseason standings.
It might’ve been more valuable to the people of Nelsonville and the program for a different reason though. The Buckeyes (12-6, 6-2 Tri-Valley I) picked up win number 12 on the season, clinching a winning season for Nelsonville-York for the first time since the 2013-14 season.
“The kids are playing their best basketball right now. They expect to win when they walk on the court,” Blaine Gabriel, the head coach of the Buckeyes said while noting the toughness and resiliency of his team. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been up here that I’ve had kids expect to win when we walk on the court. We’re 12-6, it’s the first winning record up here in 10 years. We’re pretty tickled but we’re not going to get content with 12 wins. We want more. Nobody thought about us being in the title race, here we are, so it’s a nice ride and we’re going to ride it out and see how it goes.”
On the court, it was another display of why the Buckeyes are a dangerous foe once playoffs come around. For the fifth straight game, they were able to hold their opponent to no more than 50 points. The Buckeyes have consistently prided themselves on defensive effort and forcing their opponents to earn every bucket they get.
“These guys got a lot of grit. They just fought, fought, fought and Meigs is a good team, they’ve gotten a lot better,” Gabriel said after the win. “This was a hard fought win for us.”
They’ll often use defensive pressure as a way to jumpstart their offense, something evident on Tuesday night.
It was noticeable from the stands that Nelsonville-York had a clear and concise effort to execute a gameplan early on. Any chance they could get, particularly in the first quarter, they would try to turn the game into a track meet. Using Keagan Swope as the de-facto quarterback, they were attempting to utilize a face-paced offense that included full court heaves to leaking players up the floor.
“We wanted to get the tempo to what we want. We play fast, we practice fast. We know how we want to do it.”
It worked in the first as both teams were in the midst of a back-and-forth first frame. Six different Buckeyes scored in the first quarter as they were able to grab a 15-11 lead after the first quarter.
Neither team could separate in the second. Nelsonville-York tried to with a quick run early in the quarter to build up a six-lead. Braylon Harrison drilled a three and then a couple of more buckets from the Mauraders (4-11, 3-5) forced Gabriel into a timeout with the score sitting at 19-18.
The Buckeyes immediately responded with a three-pointer from James Koska after the timeout. Koska went on to score seven of his 13 total points in the second.
The game could’ve easily flipped directions after a scary moment late in the first half. Keagan Swope collided head first with a Meigs defender and was face-first on the ground for a few minutes. The point guard was able to shake it off though and play through the rest of the night, leading the team with 17 points.
“Keagan just gives me 110% every game. He got hit in the face early and then got bounced around two or three other times. Poor kid, he just takes a beating.”
Another late basket from the Buckeyes gave them a 26-22 advantage heading into the locker room.
Whatever Gabriel told his team in the locker room must’ve worked, as they came out firing in the third quarter. Andrew Conner got it started with a layup and then Leighton Loge made a basket through contact to help the Buckeyes build a nine-point advantage early in the quarter. Conner finished with seven points while Loge pitched in nine.
Meigs was able to cut the lead down once again off of two straight three-pointers but Conner came down after and hit one of his own to give Nelsonville-York some breathing room.
In a back-and-forth contest the rest of the third, the Buckeyes found themselves with a 44-35 lead going into the final quarter.
Trent Morrissey got festivities started with a three-pointer and then a beautifully draw up inbounds play got Loge a wide open layup. Sitting with a double-digit lead with just over five minutes remaining, it was looking as if the Buckeyes could relax and cruise to the victory.
Meigs instead forced more stress on the team and their fans. A late run from the Marauders found themselves down five points with just over 2:30 left in the contest. Nelsonville-York hit enough free throws and Meigs offense stalled out from there, allowing the Buckeyes to dribble out the ball and grab the win.
“We knew they were going to make a run. I tried explaining to them that the only way they get back in the game, quickly, was making three’s. We slid off them a couple times and they hit the three’s.”
With every game meaning so much now, Nelsonville-York travels out to Vinton County on Friday night in a matchup of two of the teams locked at first in the division.