NEW MARTINSVILLE - The third time was the charm for Magnolia on Tuesday night as the Blue Eagles thumped River, 72-45, before a packed house in the semifinals of Wheeling Hospital OVAC Boys' Basketball Championships.
Boosted by a 19-0 fourth-quarter run, Coach Dave Tallman's squad earned a berth in Saturday's Class 3A championship game (12:30 p.m.) against Buckeye Trail. The Warriors knocked off Monroe Central, 80-59, in the other semifinal in Old Washington. It will be the first time the schools will meet on the boys' basketball court, according to Tallman.
River (13-5) handed Magnolia (13-4) its first loss of the season, 79-68, on Jan. 5 behind 40 points from Brett Price. Then, 10 days later, the Pilots turned the trick again, 54-52, on their home court.
River’s Matt Marconi (1) looks to set up a play while being guarded by Magnolia’s Preston Boswell (3) during their game Tuesday night in New Martinsville.
So, what changed Tuesday night?
''The main difference was the man-to-man (defense),'' Tallman said. ''We knew we couldn't sit in the zone because (River) shoots the ball too well.
''Kyle Elliott did a great job on Price. We just can't say enough about him.''
Price finished with 12 points on 5 of 18 shooting from the field.
Two of Price's points capped a 7-0 run that gave River a 15-12 lead after one quarter. From that point, the two teams were tied twice before Magnolia went up 27-22 with Mark Winters on the bench in foul trouble. The Wheeling Jesuit recruit finished with 19 points.
''The other guys just stepped up and that was key,'' Tallman said.
Winters' 3-pointer at the start of the second quarter sparked a 9-3 spurt which put the Blue Eagles up 36-29.
Magnolia shot 60 percent from the field in the third quarter. But in the fourth, it got better.
Matt Marconi's layup pulled the Pilots to with five at 45-40 at the start of period. But from there, Magnolia went on the game-clinching run and led 64-40 with a little more than two minutes remaining.
''A lot of that came off steals,'' Tallman said. ''We'd have situations where Kyle would dive for a loose ball and tip it to someone. That's what we want to do, get the ball in transition.
''I think after (River) fell behind a little bit they had to play our game and it was beneficial to us.''
A Winters' hook started the run. Zach Willhoite, who finished with a game-high 22 points, converted a 3-point play. Then, freshman Preston Boswell drained a pair of 3s from both sides of the court. He finished with 18 points.
All told, the Blue Eagles shot 83 percent from the field during the quarter, compared to River's 3 of 17 (17 percent) showing.
''We just couldn't put a shot in,'' River coach Mark Romick said. ''When the heat turns up like that you have to be patient and we didn't do that and (the score) was the result.
''We got to the fourth quarter and we became impatient. The past two games (against Magnolia) we maintained that patience the whole game.
''We shot a lot better that last two times (against Magnolia). Then, we hit those shots. (Tuesday), we couldn't hit them.''
Cody Caldwell joined Price with 12 points. Marconi finished with 10.
''These guys are unselfish and are on a mission,'' Tallman said of his team, which has won five straight.
''We were disappointed we didn't repeat (as OVAC champion) last year and we're glad to be back with an opportunity to win it again.''