Loss shouldn’t taint Pilots’ memories of successful season

CANTON – It just wasn’t meant to be.

River’s dream of winning a Division IV regional championship in boys’ basketball went up in an eight-minute cloud of smoke Tuesday night. Actually, it was only six minutes, but who was counting?

The Pilots had navigated their way to a seemingly comfortable 35-25 third-quarter lead against a very talented and athletic bunch from Youngstown Christian in a semifinal contest.

However, everything that went right in the first 18 minutes in which River was slowly building its advantage, quickly went the opposite direction following a timeout by the Eagles at the six-minute mark.

Chad Isaly came off the bench and tossed in a three from the right wing that gave the Pilots their 10-point bulge as the River faithful were going crazy in their portion of the historic Canton Memorial Fieldhouse.

The sudden burst of enthusiasm was short-lived by the Monroe Countians, though, as Youngstown Christian turned up the defensive pressure, which River had never seen the likes of until Tuesday night.

Although the Pilots handled it fairly well in the first half with a mere five turnovers, the same can’t be said for the second half when they were guilty of a dozen miscues on their way to a 60-49 setback.

“I’m not sure if we got tired or what,” veteran River head coach Mark Romick offered. “We knew what was coming with the run-and-jump pressure defense and we handled it early on, but in the third quarter we started playing their style of game and got out of ours. We warned the kids about that at the half.”

Once the Eagles, who were the No. 8 seed in the Struthers District before winning the title, got their freight train rolling up and down the court, there was no stopping it.

“We really didn’t make any major changes,” Youngstown Christian head coach Dolph Carroll said. “We made some minor adjustments within our style. We just tweaked a couple of things here and there.”

River senior Brett Price said, “The first half we were breaking their press pretty easy and knocking down the open shots. In the second half it seemed as though we lost our legs a little bit and couldn’t knock down the shots we did in the first half.

“The shots we were shooting in the first half were the same shots we were shooting in the second half. They just wouldn’t go down.”

With the loss, River says goodbye to a seven-member senior class that wrapped up a stellar three varsity seasons with a combined record of 50-21. The Pilots won three straight sectional crowns with this group and finally got over the Hiland hump in district tournament action last Saturday in Byesville.

“It was a good atmosphere for the kids and all, but I know that what these kids have accomplished this season hasn’t really set in to them yet,” Romick said. “Maybe a couple of years down the line they’ll look back and say, ‘Hey, we fared pretty well that year.'”

Indeed they did, and they will be missed.

“I have to take my hat off to my senior class. They’re not only good basketball players, but they are tremendous kids,” Romick said while holding back his emotions. “They’re great kids in practice. They’re great kids in school. They’re just great kids, period.

“There is only one team in the state in each of the four divisions that ends the season with a victory,” he added. “Somewhere along the line every team loses but one. When you get this far, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth, but you’ve got to look back at it and realize what you did accomplish.

“There were only 16 teams playing tonight in Division IV, and I think we showed that we deserved to be here.”

Indeed, they did.

That senior class includes Price, Isaly, Matt Marconi, Jordan Indermuhle, Kameron Brown, Cody Caldwell and Evan Eggleston.

Congratulations, Pilots, on a fine season and careers.

North can be reached at knorth@timesleaderonline.com