ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Withstanding an incredible River rally from a 20-point deficit to where the Pilots had an opportunity at winning the game in the final seconds, the Linsly boys' basketball team hung on to capture the Wheeling Hospital/Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Class 2A Tournament championship Saturday afternoon on the Ohio University Eastern campus.
Cody Caldwell's 3-pointer from the right baseline trimmed Linsly's once seemingly insurmountable advantage to 67-64 with 1:07 to play. It became a two-point deficit at the 35-second mark after Caldwell hit 1 of 2 attempts from the foul line and the Pilots got the ball back again by forcing a second straight Cadets turnover.
River had a chance to take the lead for the first time but Caldwell and Brett Price both missed 3-point attempts before Cadets freshman Jibri Blount was fouled while pulling down the rebound with 10 seconds remaining.
Shooting the double-bonus, Blount netted just the second shot for a three-point Linsly lead. Before the Pilots could even get off an attempt at a game-tying shot, Cadets sophomore Anthony Wallace stripped Caldwell of the ball, was immediately fouled and buried both shots to wrap up a 70-65 Linsly victory.
The late defensive stop and subsequent free throws capped off a brilliant day for Wallace, who set an OVAC 2A championship game tournament record by scoring 31 points. The previous mark of 25 points was shared by Shadyside's Jared Andes and Linsly's Cody Campbell during the 2008 title game, won in triple overtime by the Tigers.
Wallace's standout game saw him pull down 13 rebounds and collect four steals as the Cadets finished off their season with a 13-8 record that included seven victories in their last nine games.
''This is a great day for our school and our program but all the credit goes to the guys (seated) behind me,'' Linsly coach James Wallace said of his players. ''River has such a great shooting team. We knew they would make a run. Our guys hung in there and made enough plays down the stretch to finish the game.''
Although the Pilots came up on the short end of the scoreboard in this spellbinder that had the big crowd supporting both schools on their feet through most of the fourth quarter, River coach Mark Romick couldn't say enough about the all-out effort of his players.
''We came out in the first half a little bit sluggish and didn't shoot the ball real well,'' Romick said. ''At any point after we got down like that, we could have folded. But our kids battled back and played with a lot of heart and showed what they were made of.
''Our fan support was great. It reminded me of the days when Coach (Dick) Potts was at our school and the gym was full every night. The atmosphere gave me goose bumps.''
River falls to 14-6 just ahead of sectional play.
''You have to take things in stride,'' Romick said. ''We dug ourselves a hole, got out of it and battled back to where we had a shot at it. That is all you can ask of yourself at the end of a great game like this.
''We have no seniors on our team and playing in a game like this was a great learning experience. Linsly has a great basketball team. What we get out of it may determine how far we go in the postseason."
The Cadets came out of the starting block red hot, scoring the first seven points as Jibri Blount hit a putback shot and Wallace racked up five straight points with a conventional three-point play and then adding a runner forcing River to call time out 1:31 into the game.
The Pilots scored the next four points on baskets from Jordan Indermuhle and Caldwell but, as was the case nearly every time River made a move at catching up, Anthony Wallace answered for the Cadets. His trifecta from the left sideline and transition basket a minute later helped Linsly open the lead to 16-8 heading into the second quarter.
Limiting River (14-6) to just one shot underneath the glass most of the first half, the Cadets blew out to a 37-17 bulge late in the second quarter. The Pilots then showed some signs of life with back-to-back 3-pointers from Price and Chad Isaly that cut the deficit to 37-23 at the half.
Price came back and drained four shots from behind the arc in the third quarter, including a pair right at the end that pulled the Pilots to within 51-45 with 8 minutes remaining.
When Caldwell gunned in still another 3-pointer from the left baseline, suddenly it was a 51-48 game. River quickly got a chance for a tie but Price was unable to hit the target with this 3-point attempt this time. Indermuhle, a game-long standout offensively and defensively for the Pilots, scored eight points and Caldwell added seven in the final quarter to keep the Pilots alive.
Jibri Blount's seven points and Wallace's six points were just enough for Linsly to maintain the lead.
The 6-foot-5 Indermuhle's 17 points, 14 rebounds, five blocked shots and some excellent defensive work playing Linsly senior Akil Blount brought the Pilots back. Akil Blount struggled shooting the ball, hitting 2 of 14 shots but still finished with eight points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
''Jordan does a great job bodying people inside and he is long-armed which helped him a lot,'' Romick said.
Price's 21 points paced the Pilots scoring, while Isaly had 14 coming off the bench and Caldwell finished with 13.
Anthony Wallace was supported by Jibri Blount's 17 points, 11 rebounds and three steals.
''We knew River would try and take Akil away," James Wallace said. ''Their pressure disrupted our rhythm a little but we've got some mentally tough kids. We missed some opportunities at the rim that might have kept the game from getting close and I thought we made a few decisions that weren't great. I kept emphasizing to them that we were going to finish this thing off with a win and we did.''
While this was James Wallace's first title as a coach, the Linsly School and Bethany College product knows a lot about winning championships. He was part of an OVAC title-winning team during his junior year at Linsly and played on three Presidents' Athletic Conference championship squads at Bethany.
''This feels great but it's not necessarily the championships you win as much as the guys you win them with. I've had a great bunch of kids this year," he said