River Pilot girls stop Monroe Central Seminoles

Photo by Kim North River’s Reese Hobbs (2) looks for somewhere to go with the ball after grabbing one of her 10 rebounds Wednesday night in Ohio Division IV District Tournament semifinal action against Monroe Central on John Jenkins Court inside St. Clairsville High School. The Pilots won, 52-37.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The old adage it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season didn’t faze the River girls’ basketball team Wednesday night.

Facing county rival Monroe Central for the fourth time this season, the No. 2 seeded Pilots (23-3) easily navigated their way to a meeting with No. 1 Hiland on Saturday with a 52-37 triumph over the third-seeded Seminoles (19-6) before a large turnout in a Division IV district semifinal on John Jenkins Court inside St. Clairsville High School.

The Pilots and Hawks, who defeated Strasburg, 45-36, Wednesday night at Sandy Valley High School, will play at 1 p.m. As of late Wednesday night, the site had not been determined.

“This is a great rivalry,” veteran River head coach Rick Isaly said of the fourth meeting with Monroe Central. “These are two really good teams.”

River won the first meeting this year by eight points in Hannibal before falling by two in Woodsfield. The Pilots won the OVAC WVU Medicine Class 2A championship earlier this month at Harrison Central High School in Cadiz, 55-41.

River led 21-17 at the half as all-Ohioan Kelsey Harlan scored as many as Monroe Central. The 5-6 senior netted nine in the first quarter, including a pair of free throws with no time on the clock after being fouled just prior to the buzzer. She had eight in the second quarter when the Pilots extended their margin.

“This was a team win. Everybody contributed, but when you’ve got a point guard out there like Kelsey, she gets everyone involved,” Isaly stressed. “She’s a true point guard. I can’t care what anybody says.”

Veteran Monroe Central head coach Troy Baker agreed, wholeheartedly, with Isaly.

“”We didn’t shoot the ball very well all night,” Baker said. “But when you have to chase (Kelsey) Harlan around all night on defense, it makes life difficult for you because she’s a great player. I felt she was the difference in the game.”

Isaly said his halftime speech was more like a question.

“I asked the girls at halftime what they wanted to do in the second half? Did they want to play back in a zone or what? They all said they wanted to press,” Isaly recalled. “So we went out and pressed them and forced some turnovers that led to easy baskets. I thought that was the difference in the game. We kind of got them in a run-and-gun game and they were missing shots. It also allowed Kelsey to play her game.”

“We turned the ball a few times against their pressure which allowed them to get some easy baskets in transition,” Baker said. “When you can do that in a game like this, it makes a difference.”

While the Pilots’ pressure was frustrating the Seminoles, Harlan was working her magic at the other end and her teammates, especially Zoe Fox and Kaylee Hagan, reaped the benefits. While neither scored in the first 16 minutes, they combined for 13 in the third quarter as Hagan had all seven of her points The 5-9 Fox, just a sophomore, added a pair of three-point baskets in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach, the second making it a game-high 23-point difference at 50-27 with a little more than four minutes left to play.

In addition to her game-high 21 points, Harlan stuffed the stat sheet with eight steals, seven assists, three rebounds and a blocked shot. Fox had a double-double with 12 points and 10 boards, which tied teammate Reese Hobbs as the Pilots held a 34-28 edge off the glass. Hagan added seven points and a like number of boards.

“Zoe played a heck of a game,” Isaly praised. “Especially in the second half. She battled hard for rebounds.”

Monroe Central couldn’t buy a basket for most of the night, making just 15 of 47 shots (32 percent. The Seminoles had some good looks, but the ball just wouldn’t fall. They were an ice-cold 2-for-12 (12.5 percent) from three-point range.

Brylee McFrederick led the Seminoles with 12 points and seven rebounds. Jacey English had 10 rebounds.

Monroe Central charted 18 turnovers, with 15 coming in the middle two quarters when the game got away from it. River had 16.

Baker said his senior class — Riley Bettinger and Jaysa Henthorn — had excellent careers.

“I think they came within one win of tying the all-time mark for career wins as a class.”


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