Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — Just minutes before the start of Thursday’s game at Unioto, Paint Valley coach Tristan Norman stood outside her team’s locker room and took a moment to soak the moment in.
Alone with just her thoughts, she shook her hands and legs — loosening up so that her nerves wouldn’t overtake her emotions.
And then she did what her team did throughout the next 32 minutes … she devoted every ounce of energy she had, and then some, to one of the most memorable program wins in quite some time.
“I just wanted it so bad for the girls. I want to see their hard work pay off and I want to see them enjoy this,” Norman said of that candid moment. “It was big to be in this game and that matters. You want to play in games like this. But you just want it so bad for these girls who pour their hearts and souls into it. For my coaching staff, who I couldn’t do this job without, you want it for them, too.”
Norman’s nerves turned into an ear-to-ear smile when it was all said and done. That’s because her girls put away a hard-fought 54-51 win over the Shermans, who were previously unbeaten in Scioto Valley Conference action.
The victory allows the Bearcats (11-1, 6-1 SVC) to grab a share of the conference title lead and creates a traffic jam at the top of the league standings — PV, Unioto and Adena all have one loss.
“They did what we asked. They played hard and never gave up and they got a huge win,” Norman said. “Coming into the season, the girls had big goals. That first loss to Adena [on Dec. 14] was kind of a heartbreaker. So to come tonight and still have a chance to be in first place, that’s huge.”
Tale of the tape
Unioto (11-2, 6-1 SVC) started the night’s scoring when Amelia Uhrig got a putback to fall at the 7:10 mark in the first quarter. PV’s Olivia Smith, who pieced together yet another monstrous night, answered with a three-point play at the 6:15 mark, giving the Bearcats their first lead.
Aver Miller made it a 4-3 Shermans lead before Uhrig scored with 4:42 left, making it 6-3. That’s when PV’s Hanna Uhrig showed up to the party, hitting her first 3 of the night and forcing a 6-6 tie with 4:19 to play.
After Kendall Dye hit one of two free throws, Averi McFadden knocked down two of her own free tries, giving PV a 9-6 lead — which turned out to be the start of a quarter-ending 12-2 run. Uhrig nailed another triple, Smith scored twice with under a minute left and McFadden buried two more free throws to put Paint Valley ahead 18-6 after the first eight minutes.
“Free throws were huge. Those are free points,” Norman said. “The girls, I think they struggle in their minds about it. But we’ve let them know that the 1,000 shots they put up this summer are going to be paid in full. They all did exactly that tonight. They had confidence, they knocked down the shots and that’s huge.”
In the second, with her team leading 21-11, Smith picked up her second foul. In effect, Paint Valley was forced to make a defensive switch — calling on senior Abbi Stanforth to guard Unioto’s leading scorer Avery Miller.
Miller made the most of her opportunities, although they were scarce. Stanforth denied her the basketball and, for the most part, held the Shermans’ scoring force in check.
It helped Paint Valley keep their double-digit lead at halftime by a 29-19 tally.
“Coming into tonight, we wanted Olivia to take that matchup [against Miller]. It’s something she’s done before,” Norman said. “But she got into some foul trouble and we had to make an adjustment early. Abbi did a great job as always. That’s kind of her strength, being a lockdown defender. But in all honesty, it’s Abbi leading the charge and we have four other girls on the floor who buy in. That makes our defensive game plan successful.”
Miller and Smith traded buckets to start the third just before Stanforth hit 2-of-2 free throw tries for a 35-23 count. Uhrig then gave PV a 15-point lead at 38-23 with a 3 that, at the time, appeared to have been the dagger.
After entering the quarter facing a 43-30 deficit, the Shermans found themselves trailing 49-34 with just 6:55 left — following yet another triple from Uhrig.
Alexis Book started the rally attempt with a mid-range jumper before Miller, Amaris Betts and Carissa Wheeler all contributed to cut the Bearcats’ lead to 49-42 at the 4:36 mark.
Miller then hit a free throw and added a 3 of her own to cap a 12-0 run at the 3:25 mark in the fourth, bringing the Shermans to within three at 49-46.
The game’s next score came from Smith with 2:16 left before Betts nailed a trey with 20 seconds remaining for a 51-49 count. Unioto, with time dwindling, was forced to foul and Paint Valley asked Uhrig to put the icing on the cake.
The senior hit 3-of-4 free throw tries in the closing minutes to seal a 54-51 victory — the most important Bearcat victory, by far, to date this winter.
“Olivia and Hanna were born for these kinds of moments,” Norman said. “Olivia is a workhorse and she’s relentless with the ball. You love having a kid like that on your side. Then with Hanna knocking down those shots tonight … I’ve always known she’s got some ice in her veins. When it’s time, she turns it on. I’m just so happy for them.”
Smith ended the night with 22 points and 17 rebounds — the senior now sits at 982 career boards. Uhrig had 17 points and three assists and Stanforth, Dye and McFadden all scored five points each.
Miller’s strong second half allowed her to finish with a game-high 24 points while Uhrig added 13 points to Unioto’s totals. Betts ended the night with seven points and Wheeler tallied five points and a team-high 10 rebounds.
What’s on tap
Paint Valley, now in the thick of a league title hunt, will look to continue its winning ways on Tuesday, hosting Zane Trace. Meanwhile, Unioto attempts to return to the win column the same evening, hosting Huntington.
“Paint Valley hasn’t been in this position for a long, long time,” Norman said. “So for these girls to be doing what they’re doing and to change the way others think about this program — for our younger kids and for our community — people are going to remember what they’re doing.”
Paint Valley: 18-11-14-11 — 54
Unioto: 8-11-11-21 — 51
Paint Valley: 16-34 FG, 16-22 FT, 6-9 3pt., 31 rebounds (Smith 17), 31 turnovers, 9 assists (McFadden 3, Uhrig 3). Scoring: Smith 22, Uhrig 17, Stanforth 5, McFadden 5, Dye 5.
Unioto: 16-59 FG, 17-22 FT, 2-18 3pt., 28 rebounds (Wheeler 10), 16 turnovers, 5 assists (Book 2, Miller 2). Scoring: Miller 24, Uhrig 13, Betts 7, Wheeler 5, Book 2.