MORRISTOWN - For the first time in over a decade, River is headed to the Division IV boys' Eastern District Basketball Tournament championship game.
The Pilots (18-7) punched their ticket Tuesday night inside "The Hangar" at Union Local High School with a 44-35 victory against Shadyside (13-12) before a nice-sized, boisterous crowd. It was their third victory against their up-river rival this season, but the most competitive of the three contests.
"It's been a long time since River has been this far," veteran head coach Mark Romick said. "We've been to the district semis quite a few times, but we've always seemed to run into the defending champions (Hiland). It's probably been since the early 2000s since we've been in the finals."
The contest was a physical affair in the first half as both teams had key players with three personal fouls. The Pilots' Brett Price, the Eastern District Player of the Year, picked up two quick fouls and a third late in the half and was held scoreless, but his team would take a 23-17 lead into the lockerroom at halftime. The Tigers' Austin Dorris, despite sitting most of the second quarter with foul troubles, had 10 counters.
Shadyside came out determined in the third quarter and eventually pulled even at 27 on senior Ryan Richardson's lone bucket of the game with 2:01 on the clock.
However, Price, who struggled through an 0-for-5 start from the floor, came up big when his team needed him. His step-back three-pointer from the right wing gave River a 30-27 edge with eight minutes remaining.
The Pilots never trailed again as the 6-foot-1 senior tallied nine of his team-best 13 points down the stretch. In fact, he scored River's first eight of the quarter as the designated hosts took a 38-31 advantage.
"Brett came alive there in the fourth quarter, but we got some good efforts from everyone," Romick added. "Everyone that played tonight contributed in one way or another."
It turned into a free-throw shooting contest from there on as the Monroe Countians nailed 6 of 10 charity tosses in the waning moments.
"We didn't play our best, but we still found a way to win," Romick added. "But a win at this time of the year is a win."
Following a pair of lop-sided setbacks in the regular season (65-47 and 71-38), Shadyside head coach Ed Andes was complimentary of his team's effort.
"This time we competed with them," he said. "The other two times we played them, we didn't compete. Tonight we were right there, we just couldn't make the shots when we had them."
In addition to Price's thirteen, senior Cody Caldwell tallied nine markers and classmate Matt Marconi seven. Senior Chad Isaly also added seven, with all of them coming on free throws.
"Chad stepped up there and knocked down some big foul shots," Romick praised. "He also did a good job defensively."
Shadyside, which blitzed Barnesville last Saturday with a 70-percent shooting effort, cooled off considerably Tuesday night, sinking a mere 11 of 37 attempts.
Dorris, a bruising sophomore, led all scorers with 18 points. Senior Adam Stupak, who was coming off a career-high 30-point effort against the Shamrock, finished with 10, but eight of those came from the charity stripe.
River led 30-19 off the glass as senior Jordan Indermuhle pulled down eight. Isaly had five and Price four. Dorris led everyone with eight.
River will now move on to Meadowbrook High School in Byesville Saturday where who else but Hiland awaits. The Hawks eliminated Malvern Tuesday night in overtime at New Philadelphia High School. Saturday's game starts at 1 p.m.