River shows it is no ‘one-trick pony’
River has been called a lot of things over the season.
Despite finishing the regular season ranked third in the Division IV Associated Press poll and only losing one time all season, the Pilots are still looked at as no competition for their opponents.
Entering the Division IV district semifinal against top-seeded Strasburg, River Coach Mark Romick heard what other coaches thought about his team’s chances.
“I had another coach call me, and said people said we were going to get beat by 15-or-so point,” Romick said. “All year they looked at us and said, ‘How do they have the record they have?’”
In addition to being easy marks for top-tier teams like Strasburg, the Pilots are also seen as a one-man show.
In their first two tournament games, it’s been Lukas Isaly versus the competition.
Isaly scored 32 of River’s 44 points in its sectional semifinal win over Monroe Central Tuesday, Feb. 27 and 32 of River’s 45 points in its sectional final win over Tuscarawas Central Catholic Friday, March 2.
Well, whether you thought they were no competition, one-trick ponies or underdogs, the Pilots are still playing.
River once again proved the doubters wrong, getting contributions from several role players and using its signature defense to take down Strasburg 61-54 Tuesday, March 6 at Meadowbrook High School.
“This is what high school basketball is all about,” Romick said. “Two 23-1 teams. Our kids play until the drop every night. It’s all heart with them.”
Strasburg (23-2) proved throughout the game it was every bit as good as its record and top seeding in the Eastern District Division IV draw warranted.
The Tigers started the game on a 5-2 run, with Jacob Farthing drilling his first of four 3s.
River survived the initial surge, but still trailed 13-8 after the first quarter.
The Pilots clawed back in the second quarter to tie the game at 21 at halftime, which was a comforting situation to be in considering Isaly only scored three points in the first half.
With Strasburg keying in on shutting down River’s biggest threat, John Murphy found room inside, Cody Hupp added five points and Stone Thompson came off the bench to score two huge 3s for the Pilots.
“I knew the other guys could step up,” Isaly said. “They all played a heck of a game.”
The third quarter saw the Tigers storm ahead again, with Farthing making another 3 to go with another Strasburg basket as the Tigers forced a River timeout up 26-21.
From that timeout on, River (24-1) would take over – and this time Isaly got involved.
The Pilots answered Strasburg’s 5-0 run to start the second half with a 9-0 run of their own.
Thompson added his third triple of the game and Murphy chipped in two three-point plays with strong play inside.
From that run on, the Pilots led the rest of the way.
River led 39-35 entering the fourth quarter, and thanks to Isaly, didn’t let Strasburg erase it.
Isaly hit back-to-back 3s early in the quarter to give River an eight-point lead, but Strasburg would rally back.
The Tigers would get within one score multiple times in the quarter, but each time River would answer.
Isaly would score 26 of his 29 points in the second half, with the coup de grace coming in the final minute as he turned a defensive stop into a coast-to-coast three-point play to give the Pilots a 61-54 advantage.
After the game, Isaly credited his coaches with getting the team ready for the Tigers.
“We worked our butts off this week,” Isaly said. “That is a very good Strasburg team. We knew they played a tough schedule. We knew they shot the 3 well. We prepared well and had a good week of practice.”
In addition to Isaly’s effort, Murphy finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds and Thompson added 10 points.
Isaly hopes those guys can contribute again Friday, March 9, because he will need them, as the Pilots will once again be looked at as the underdog when they face Berlin Hiland in the Division IV district final at Cambridge High School.
The Hawks are every bit as dangerous as Strasburg, finishing the year ranked eighth in the Division IV AP poll and earning their spot in the district final with a 44-36 victory over Malvern.
Hiland won the regular season matchup 68-53 Feb. 3 at River High School, the Pilots’ only loss on the season.
Isaly said his team is looking for some payback in the district final.
“We still believe we can prove a lot of people wrong,” he said.