River lays claim to 2A crown

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Though it defies the cliche, the fourth time was the charm for River.

After coming up empty on its initial three trips to the championship game of the Wheeling Hospital OVAC Girls Basketball Championship, the Pilots broke through Saturday morning.

Using a strong foul shooting performance and an all-around floor game from junior point guard Lauren Flannery, the Pilots fought off Shadyside for a 47-44 victory.

“I am so proud of these young ladies,” River head coach Rick Isaly said as he clinched his first conference title in 13 seasons at the helm. “We went through a stretch where I thought we were over-scheduled, playing real tough games. When you get beat, it gets the girls down, but now I think we need to play that competition to get ready for the tournament.”

Along with the OVAC title, the Pilots also take the season series with the Tigers (14-7) after the teams split their earlier matchups. It was actually a loss at Shadyside in late January that seemingly ignited the Pilots.

Since that outing, River has now reeled off seven consecutive wins.

“We knew we had to win out to get in (the OVAC tournament),” Isaly said. “We have just continued with that momentum and hopefully we can keep it going.”

The Pilots had very little time to thoroughly enjoy their title until the buzzer went off because whenever it seemed like they were set to pull away, Shadyside would hit a big shot.

The dymanic freshmen duo of Baylee Wach and Tory Hendershot hit triples in the fourth to keep the Tigers close. Hendershot’s goal came with just 51 seconds left and knotted the game at 42.

River, however, was unflappable. It got the ball into Flannery’s hands, who continually made plays. Whether it was her 10-of-10 effort at the line, including five straight in the fourth, or when she saved two possessions by calling time outs, she fully earnedd the game’s MVP award.

All told, Flannery finished with 20 points.

“I was nervous coming into this game because it was like we were cursed on this floor,” Flannery said. “Being able to get this win is exciting. Shadyside’s a good team and made shots when they needed them, but our defense was good down the stretch.”

Despite struggling to score the ball in the fourth quarter, Shadyside still had a glimmer of hope with two seconds to go. Its desperation shot was well short of the rim, setting off the Pilots’ celebration.

It didn’t take Shadyside head coach Serge Gentile long to pinpoint his team’s biggest downfall. One quick glance at the book and a 4-of-14 effort at the foul line led to a lot of head shaking.

“They made a few more plays than we did and we weren’t very good at the line,” Gentile said. “It’s tough to win basketball games, especially a championship game, when you shoot that kind of percentage at the line. River’s a very good team and we fought until the end.”

Flannery’s scoring production was complemented by solid interior play of Ali Long. She had 14 points. Riley Lollathin added eight points, including three big goals in the second half.

Shadyside was paced by Wach’s 16. Hendershot went for 10, while Jaycee Mayeres added seven.