For The Wetzel Chronicle
A historic season came to an end as the River Pilots fell to Youngstown Christian 60-49 in the Ohio Division IV Canton regional playoffs at Memorial Fieldhouse March 12. River (19-8) played a solid game for the first half and part of the third quarter, but the Eagles' (17-8) defense started to click and forced the Pilots into unwanted turnovers. Once River did make its way down the floor, the shots didn't fall as they did in the first half.
The first quarter was back-and-forth, with River holding a slight 15-14 advantage going into the second. The Eagles started the second with a three-pointer and a layup to go up by four, but River answered with a 7-0 run to take a 22-19 lead that propelled them to a 29-23 halftime lead. The last of those points came on a four-point play by Cody Caldwell after he hit a three-pointer on a fast break and hit the following foul shot with 1:48 to go in the half.
In the third, a pair of three pointers by Brett Price and Chad Isaly put River up 35-25 and forced Youngstown Christian to call a time out and regroup.
Unfortunately for River, the Eagles' strategy worked. Youngstown Christian responded with seven straight points which turned into a 19-3 run. At the end of the period, the Pilots were down 41-38 with the momentum completely favoring the opposition.
It could be credited to three different things. On River's end, the majority of its turnovers took place. When the Pilots didn't turn the ball over, the shots they took just wouldn't fall, no matter how open they were. Most of the turnovers came as a result of Youngstown Christian's full court press that River expertly broke in the first half. When they broke it in the second half, shots rattled the rim, but wouldn't fall through, as if there was a proverbial lid on the orange iron.
"They (Youngstown Christian) maintained the pressure," said Mark Romick. "I don't know if it's mental fatigue or what, but you forget to go to the right place or forget to flash in the middle and you hang the guy out to dry with the ball. We did a real good job in the first half, but in the second half, we started to get the ball on the sideline. If you get the ball on the sideline against a run-and-jump, you're in trouble."
Another problem rose in the presence of the Eagles' Tymere Dubose. The 6'5" junior, who was every bit of 240 pounds, seemingly took control of the game. He scored 16 points in the second half with 10 coming in the fourth quarter. He finished the game with 22 points and nine rebounds.
"He's a big boy and he's a physical presence," said Romick. "He wears on you in the post and he stays after you. We did a pretty good job on him in the first half limiting him, but in the second half as we wore down, we couldn't keep him off the board."
Price finished with a double-double performance of 21 points and 10 rebounds. Caldwell joined him in double figures with 17 points. Between them, they hit five of the team's six three-pointers.
Overall the Pilots shot six of 29 from behind the arc, but as Romick mentioned after the game, the three has been River's modus operandi all year.
"We couldn't put the ball in the hole at the end of the third quarter there and at the start of the fourth quarter, and I thought that was the biggest difference," said Romick. "You can take time outs and everything, and we were getting some good looks, but nothing would go in. We kind of lived and died by the three all year, and we died by it in the second half."
Still, this season is one for the record books as no River squad has gone farther than this year's team did. The Pilots reached the regional semifinals in 1988 and 1989, but were also defeated in the Sweet 16. Fans of the Pilots apparently recognized that before the game was even played as one side of Memorial Fieldhouse featured a sea of red and white.
"To look up in the stands and see that much red and white, it was great for our kids," Romick said of the fans that made the two-plus hour trip up to Canton. "This is just a great atmosphere for kids to play in. I know those kids in there right now, it really hasn't sunk in yet what they've done, what they've accomplished this year, and how far they've come. A couple years down the line, maybe they'll look back and think we fared pretty well that year.
"Our senior class, I gotta tip my hats off to them. They're not only good basketball players, but they're tremendous kids. They're great kids in practice. They're great kids in school. They're great kids, period.
"There is only one team in the state that gets to finish with a victory. Somewhere along the line, every team loses but one. When you get this far, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth, but you have to look back at it and realize what you did accomplish in the past. There are 16 teams, we're one of the 16, and I think we proved we belong here."
Price also added a few thoughts about playing his last game with a tremendous senior class.
"Words can't describe. I love these guys more than anything. I'd go to war with these guys. I'd do anything for any one of those guys in there. No doubt about it."