Pilots Advance, Isaly Gets 2,000

River seeking second crown

Photo by Seth Staskey River’s Lukas Isaly tries to get around the defense of Toronto’s Nick Sninchak on Tuesday night.

HANNIBAL — If the sports cliche ‘a tale of two halves’ was ever in doubt, Tuesday evening’s Wheeling Hospital OVAC Basketball Championship 2A semifinal would completely verify it.

Toronto came to River’s R.L. Potts Gymnasium with a game plan. It wanted to slow the game down and do everything it could to limit Pilots senior standout Lukas Isaly.

As Red Knights coach Sean Tucker walked to the locker room at halftime, he felt good about where his team was despite struggling to score and trailing, 11-6.

“We followed our game plan to a tee in the first half,” Tucker said.

River, though it was stymied at times by Toronto’s match-up zone, felt really good about itself, too. After all, Mark Romick’s team prides itself on its defense.

“We told the kids some nights you have to be able to dance to different tunes when it becomes tournament time,” Romick said. “Give Toronto credit because they did a great job in the first half.”

The second half was a complete 180 — at least on the Pilots’ end of the floor. River outscored Toronto, 21-8 in the third quarter and never looked back en route to a 54-24 victory.

“At halftime, the kids came in the locker room and said, ‘we’re fine … we got this,'” Romick revealed. “We have great senior leadership on this team. They’ve been in crucial games in tight situations. The calmness in these kids is impressive.”

River, which won its only conference title in school history in 1973, advances to Saturday’s OVAC 2A championship game at 10 a.m. against Steubenville Catholic, which took out Shenandoah, 39-29, in the other semifinal.

“We have to go play defense again,” Romick said. “We get after people and this end of the year stretch against Union Local, St. Clairsville, Hiland, Columbus Bishop Ready and now Toronto, you couldn’t ask for much better competition to prepare us. We’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game and play well.”

If advancing to the school’s second OVAC final and first since 2012 wasn’t enough, Lukas Isaly’s exploits certainly put the large and boisterous crowd over the top. Isaly, who was limited to just one basket in the first half, exploded in the second half, finishing with 28 points. In the process, he became the first Pilots male and 18th player in OVAC history to surpass the 2,000-point barrier. He sits at 2,005 career points.

However, it’s the trip to Ohio University Eastern that awaits this weekend that the Pilot leader was most excited about.

“We’ve made the OVAC Tournament every year, but we’ve also come up short every time, even of getting to OUE,” Isaly said. “To be able to get a big win at home and now head to the championship game is special and something I’ve dreamed about for a long time.”

Isaly joined the club when he converted 1 of 2 at the foul line in the fourth quarter. En route to the milestone, Isaly did a little bit of everything. He took two charges in the first half, rebounded and distributed the ball and then when he sensed his team needed it the most, he started scoring the ball.

“Congrats to Lukas Isaly, not only is he one of the best in the valley on the court, but he’s a great young man,” Tucker said. “Players should model themselves after him. I am glad that I don’t have to coach against him anymore.”

On back-to-back possessions, Toronto came up empty, Isaly rebounded the ball, out-raced everyone down the floor for layups. That spurt ignited the third-quarter run, which finished like an avalanche for the Red Knights. Add into the equation Drew Dietz’s first 3-point goal of the season and there was no stopping the Pilots.

“Drew works on his shooting every day and he doesn’t shoot it that badly, but he just chooses not to shoot them,” Romick said.

Isaly’s scoring production was backed by Cody Hupp, who consistently found himself on the receiving end of Isaly passes around the glass for easy chances. He scored 16. Dietz added six.

Toronto’s Nate Karaffa and Lucas Gulczyncki each had six to pace the Red Knights.

“I am very proud of our guys,” Tucker said. “We had the No. 3-ranked team in Ohio on its heels in the first half. We just need to execute better on offense. Our guys will rebound from this and we look forward to the sectional.”