CHILLICOTHE — For the second year in a row, the Washington Blue Lions played in a District semifinal game at Southeastern High School near Chillicothe.
Washington, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, had defeated Hillsboro and Warren to win a Sectional title and advance to the District round.
New Lexington, the No. 4 seed, beat Jackson and then Ironton to move on to the District tournament.
Both teams were 20-4 going into Wednesday evening’s game.
It was a fine start to the game for the Blue Lions, jumping out to an 8-0 lead.
The turning point came in the third quarter with the Blue Lions unable to convert a field goal attempt until there was just over one minute to play in the penultimate period.
In the end, after trailing by as many as 15 points, Washington rallied in the fourth quarter and finally pulled to within two points with 28.5 seconds to play.
Thanks to their free throw shooting accuracy, the Panthers withstood the challenge and held on for a 54-49 victory.
“We had one bad quarter and they kind of exposed us,” Washington head coach Shannon Bartruff said. “Against a really good team, a really good defensive team, we could have packed it in.
“We just kept scrapping,” Bartruff said. “We started running at them a little bit, they turned it over and we made some shots. We had some chances, too. A couple of shots here and there, a couple of free throws here and there.
“The third quarter was really what got us,” Bartruff said. “It was 12-3 in that quarter. You get beat by five by a really, really good basketball team, and get beat by nine in a quarter. Other than that it was a pretty even game.
“I thought we did a really, really good job on 5 (Isaiah Stephens) and 11 (Lukas Ratliff) in the first half,” Bartruff said. “Then 23 (Ryan Hobbs) has four threes. That’s a kid that I’ve seen on film can knock down a shot here and there, but he doesn’t even really look for it. He’s averaging like eight points a game and he had 12 in the first half.”
One critical key to the game came at the free throw line.
New Lexington took one field goal shot and missed in the fourth quarter.
However, playing with the lead, often content to run time off the clock, Washington found themselves in a must-foul situation.
The Panthers were up to the task, making 15 of 20 free throws for 75 percent in the fourth quarter.
In the game, Washington made 11 two-point baskets to eight for New Lexington for a differential of six points.
Both teams made six threes, so, that was a wash.
Washington made 9 of 12 attempts from the line, while New Lexington made a total of 20 out of 26 attempts. Thus, 11 minus 6 resulted in the five-point final victory margin for the Panthers.
Another hurtful factor, however, was the turnover margin. Washington had 15 turnovers to 7 for New Lexington. The difference of eight possessions with no shots attempted by the Blue Lions left enough wiggle room for New Lexington to emerge with the victory.
The game was tied, 13-13 at the end of the first quarter.
The lead changed hands twice in the second quarter.
The Blue Lions held a 24-21 lead with 2:32 to play in the first half.
However, New Lexington made the last two buckets of the half, both being of the three-point variety, including one very, very near the buzzer, which always sends a charge through a team and their partisans as the squads headed into the locker room with New Lexington in front, 27-24.
Washington had a 24-20 lead with 3:08 to play in the second quarter.
“They came out in the second quarter and went straight to (Ratliff),” Bartruff said. “He’s a really tough guard for us. Zay (Isaiah Haithcock) is one of the best athletes around and he was (playing very hard). They just spread you out so much that it’s tough to really help.”
As good as the start to the game was for the Blue Lions, that’s how unfortunate the start and most of the third quarter was to the lads in Blue and White.
New Lexington built upon its conclusion to the second quarter and kept scoring to begin the second half.
The Panthers made 5 of their first 8 shots in the third quarter.
Meanwhile Washington struggled to control the ball on its offensive side.
The Blue Lions took one shot and missed, then had three consecutive turnovers, followed by another missed field goal attempt which was followed by two more turnovers.
Finally, it seemed, New Lexington misfired on back-to-back trips down the floor.
With two minutes to play in the third quarter, New Lexington hit a pair of free throws to extend its run to 19-0 and give them a 15-point lead, 39-24.
Junior John Wall relieved some of the pressure for the Blue Lions with a three-point basket.
The quarter ended with New Lexington in front, 39-27.
With New Lexington hitting another pair of free throws to begin the fourth, junior Garrett Rickman, who connected on two threes in the first quarter, hit his third of the game at the 7:15 mark.
After a Panther miss, senior Tanner Lemaster hit two from the line to get the deficit down to single digits, 41-32 with 6:51 remaining.
The Panthers countered with another two free throws to go back up by 11.
New Lexington missed the front end of a one-and-one and junior Isaiah Haithcock scored to pull Washington back within nine, 43-34.
New Lexington had two turnovers to one for Washington as the game reached the midway point of the final period.
Rickman then scored and was fouled, converting the old-fashioned three-point play and with 4:11 left, hopes were rising for the Blue Lions as they trailed, 43-37.
After a Blue Lion missed shot and then a foul, New Lexington missed another front end of a one and bonus situation.
Isaiah Haithcock scored again for the Blue Lions, cutting the lead to 43-39.
New Lexington made its next four free throws to push the lead out to 47-39.
Lemaster responded with a bucket and after a free throw by New Lexington, Wall hit a pair from the line to make it 48-43 with 1:13 remaining.
Following a New Lexington turnover, Washington made 1 of 2 from the line. The Panthers answered, going 1 of 2 from the line for a 49-44 score.
Wall scored, but with precious seconds remaining, Washington had to foul to stop the clock.
New Lexington made two free throws to go up, 51-46.
Wall then took a shot from behind the three-point line and drew contact from the Panther defender.
Wall made all three shots from the line to put the tally at 51-49 with just 28.5 seconds remaining.
It was another 1 out of 2 from the line for New Lexington.
Washington had the ball trailing by three points with 20 seconds to play.
Most unfortunately, another turnover befell the Blue Lions. Washington quickly tried to foul, but there was no call. New Lexington got the ball into the front court before the Blue Lions could stop the clock with just 7.4 seconds remaining.
The Panthers made both throws and that finally sealed the game. Washington got a shot away, but it was no good, putting the final at 54-49.
“I felt like when we sped the game up there at the end we had chances,” Bartruff said.
Bartruff discussed his thoughts on the next to last possession.
“We had it with probably 20-some (seconds remaining),” Bartruff said. “I liked the set that we were running, I liked the action that we were running because they were digging so hard on the post, I felt like we were going to get an open shot up top. It’s just unfortunate that we turned the ball over.
“That’s on me. I should have called a time out in that spot,” Bartruff said. “We had sets that we could have run for three. I liked the flow that we were in right there.
“Kudos to New Lex,” Bartruff said. “They are a really tough team, a good defensive team. If you had told me that we got to 49, I would have said that we would’ve probably won the game. I thought 50 was the magic number and we didn’t quite get there.
“My hat’s off to my kids,” Bartruff said. “For really fighting and giving ourselves an opportunity to make it interesting there in the last four or five minutes of the game.”
Rickman led the Blue Lions with 13 points and also led his team with three steals.
Lemaster had 12 points and a team-high 12 rebounds. He also had two assists.
Wall had 10 points, two rebounds and one steal.
Isaiah Haithcock scored eight points to go along with five rebounds and two assists.
Senior Brayden May scored eight points, with three rebounds and one assist.
For New Lexington, senior Ryan Hobbs and sophomore Isaiah Stephens were co-leaders in scoring for the game, each with 16 points.
Senior Lukas Ratliff scored 15 for the Panthers.
The Blue Lions finished the season with three seniors.
“Raliegh (Haithcock) and Brayden (May)…Raleigh’s role kind of changed a little bit when he got hurt during the season,” Bartruff said. “Brayden’s role kind of changed when our lineup changed. Those two gave us great energy all year and they’re program kids.
“It stings for those seniors and that’s what we talked about (after the game),” Bartruff said. “Everybody else has an opportunity to come back. These seniors are done — it’s final for them.
“And, of course, Tanner, he’s had a great career,” Bartruff said. “He battled his butt off today. He’s one of his own biggest critics. He got some huge rebounds and he scored 12 points. He’s had a phenomenal career.
“His performance against Warren in the Sectional championship game was probably one of the best Blue Lion performances I’ve ever seen,” Bartruff said. “It was a 29 (points) and 20 (rebounds) game, or 29 and 19. Regardless, against a team like that, he carried us in that game. He’s really done that all year.”
Lemaster finished an outstanding high school basketball career for the Blue Lions with 1,191 points.
“It was emotional for our kids in the locker room, to say good-bye to those guys,” Bartruff said. “They’ve been great and they’ve helped us turn this program around.
“You go o-fer, then we win three, then we win 13 and then we win 20,” Bartruff said. “In that 20 is our first Frontier Athletic Conference title and our second Sectional championship in a row.
“I told the guys in the locker room, ‘it hurts right now,’” Bartruff said. “But, they’re going to look back on this season with happy thoughts once they get away from it for a little bit.”
New Lexington will take on Fairfield Union (22-3) for a District championship Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Convocation Center on the campus of Ohio University.
The Falcons took down the Gallia Academy Blue Devils in Wednesday’s second semifinal at Southeastern H.S., 40-37 in overtime. Gallia Academy finishes the 2022-23 season with a record of 18-7.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
W 13 11 3 22 — 49
NL 13 14 12 15 — 54
WASHINGTON — Garrett Rickman 1 (3)-2-13; John Wall 1 (1)-5-10; Brayden May 0 (2)-0-6; Will Miller 0-0-0; Raleigh Haithcock 0-0-0; Gabe Tayese 0-0-0; Tanner Lemaster 5-2-12; Isaiah Haithcock 4-0-8. TOTALS — 11 (6)-9-49. Free throw shooting: 9 of 12 for 75 percent. Three-point field goals: Rickman, 3; May, 2; Wall. Field goal shooting: 17 of 43 for 40 percent. Three-point field goal shooting: 6 of 17 for 35 percent. Rebounds: 24 (8 offensive). Assists: 6. Steals: 4. Blocked shots: 1. Turnovers: 15.
NEW LEXINGTON — Jerek Braglin 0-0-0; Isaiah Stephens 2 (1)-9-16; Isaac Dick 1-1-3; Lukas Ratliff 3 (1)-6-15; Bentley Hanson 2-0-4; Ryan Hobbs 0 (4)-4-16. TOTALS — 8 (6)-20-54. Free throw shooting: 20 of 26 for 77 percent. Three-point field goals: Hobbs, 4; Stephens, Ratliff. Field goal shooting: 14 of 33 for 42 percent. Turnovers: 7.