The West Jefferson High School boys basketball team just can’t catch a break.
Seemingly every bounce and every call that could go against the Roughriders is going against them right now as they hit the halfway point of the regular season.
In a Mid-State League Ohio Division tilt on Tuesday, Jan. 21, against visiting Bexley, West Jeff (1-10, 1-5) once again found itself in a battle in the closing minutes, and for the 10th time in 11 games the squad was unable to find a way to win, as it fell 56-49.
“We just don’t seem to be able to catch a break,” Roughriders coach Bob Hunter said. “Our effort is there. We missed some free throws, but I don’t know how many times the ball hangs on the rim and falls out. It’s just been that type of a season. Then their kid misses a foul shot and it goes right back to him, holy cow what else can happen?”
The game with the Lions was tied 30-30 at the half and 40-40 after three quarters. Neither squad could get much separation in the second half. Bexley was ahead 45-44 with 5:11 remaining after Matt Jones knocked down a pair of free throws for the home team.
After the Roughriders defense stepped up and got a stop, Jones scored on a drive and was fouled. His successful free throw try put West Jeff ahead 47-45 with 4:38 to go. The home team missed on a prime chance to put some distance between themselves and the visiting Lions.
First Tyler Jones missed a pair of free throws with 3:58 to play, and then Nick Mendenhall scooped up a loose ball and cruised in for what would have been an easy layup. But the 6-5 senior missed a slam dunk attempt, which kept Bexley ahead 48-47. Mendenhall did split a pair of free throws with 1:09 to play to make it 48-48.
But the Lions’ Drew Esposito stepped into a clean look from beyond the three-point arc and drilled the go-ahead basket with :52 remaining in the game. Stepp split a pair of free throws on the other end to make it 51-49, then Esposito went to the line and knocked down a couple free throws putting his team up 53-49.
“We talked about playing for four quarters and then their kid hit the shot there late and kind of knocked the wind out of our sail,” Hunter said.
The Roughriders would get no closer the rest of the way. The loss is similar to some others this season where West Jeff has been on the cusp of victory only to see it slip away.
“We’re playing hard, obviously with our record we’re not where we want to be, but we’re playing hard,” Hunter said. “We’re right there, (Bexley) has beaten some teams and we were right there. It’s a matter about getting over the hump and getting one on the win side.”
Hunter said his kids are staying upbeat despite the flurry of tough defeats.
“Basketball is such a long season and we still have 11 more games to play, then we jump into the (district) tournament,” he said. “We need to win some games in order to get a decent seed. Hopefully we can get into the tournament and win some games.
Stepp scored 20 points to pace the Roughriders, Jones added 12 in the loss.
Esposito had 16 for Bexley, while Cole Heilman and Sam Nolan had 13 apiece.