WEST LIBERTY — West Liberty-Salem and West Jefferson met in a battle that would turn the tide of the OHC North in the victor’s favor on Friday.
The Tigers, a game behind in the league standings, desperately needed a win that would even both the season series and the OHC ledger. The Roughriders had other plans, looking to go 2-0 against WL-S and put a stranglehold on the division.
Eventually, it was the Tigers coming out on top, 54-53, having erased a big halftime deficit when James Loffing hit a three-pointer that put them ahead with 12 seconds left.
“What a game. Everybody came in there and did their thing, did their role, and that’s why we won. This group of seniors, they’ve been known to not lose,” West Liberty-Salem Coach Darrin Leichty said. “From the time they’ve been little kids, they’ve been trained not to give up. They just didn’t want to lose. They knew the league title was on the line and they made play after play.”
The ′Riders opened on an 11-2 run that forced a WL-S timeout and took the air out of a packed gymnasium.
West Liberty-Salem trimmed it all the way back to two points midway through the quarter, but things didn’t get much better for the Tigers after that in the first half, with the visitors pouring it on during the second quarter also and racing to a 31-18 lead at halftime.
“What a testament to these guys. I saw our heads drop a little bit there in the second quarter. They were frustrated. I told them that baskets would be hard to come by, and they were,” Leichty said.
The third quarter got moderately better before the fourth saw the floodgates open.
The Tigers got it to seven points, then a steal and a breakaway basket would cut it to five points at the 5:15 mark — except that Neil Markin missed the bunny. Luckily, Max Eggleston was racing behind and leapt out of his shoes for a put-back dunk that rocked West Jeff and brought the crowd back to insane life.
“There towards the end of the third quarter, it seemed to happen for us. We flat-out got after it. Put the pressure on them and then they were on their heels a little bit,” Leichty said. “There was a big three by James there, obviously Max’s follow-up dunk got us going a little bit.”
The West Jeff lead shrank and shrank until West Liberty-Salem was down only two points with 30 seconds left. Then Loffing hit his jumper from the top of the arc, forcing a dejected Roughriders team to call timeout and set up a play.
From there, it was all defense. The Tigers forced a jump ball that saw possession stay with West Jefferson, then forced a miracle heave that missed the mark as time expired.
For the game, Loffing had 16 points to lead the Tigers (14-6, 11-4 OHC), with Eggleston adding 12 and Trevor Burden scoring 11.
In the jayvee game, West Liberty-Salem won, 54-42. Nick Burden had 18 points and Oliver McGuire added 10 for the Tigers.
West Liberty-Salem will travel to Urbana on Tuesday, but faces Mechanicsburg next Friday in a must-win game against the one-win Indians. A victory there would at least clinch a shared title.
“At this point, we still have a chance to win it outright. West Jeff still has to go and play Triad, and Triad’s a dangerous team,” Leichty said.
Reach Justin Miller at 652-1331, ext. 1776 or on Twitter @UDC_Miller.