John Bruce, Staff Writer
BAINBRIDGE — With a chance to clinch a share of the Scioto Valley Conference title, the Zane Trace Pioneers relied on their massive front court, timely 3-point shooting and a massive contribution off the bench to get their hands on a third league championship in four seasons.
The Pioneers (13-5, 10-2 SVC) entered Tuesday’s fray one game up in the loss column on Paint Valley, but it would be the Bearcats who appeared hungrier from the opening tip.
PV’s Connor Free and Trent Mettler each hit triples on the team’s opening two possessions, before Cordell Grubb added a pair of free throws to take an early 8-0 lead over the front-running Pioneers.
Zane Trace’s Kyle Stonerock converted the Pioneers’ first four points to steady the red, white and blue after the rough start and Donavin Baker and Xzander Ream each scored tough buckets, leading to the Pioneers tying the game late in the opening period.
However, Mettler was able to push the ball up court and let off a heave from 35 feet out that banked in as the horn bellowed for a 16-13 Bearcat lead after one.
Trace’s Carter Hill and Brayden Jarrell began to make their impact on the game early in the second quarter with outstanding pressure defense.
Hill, who was tasked with slowing down 1,000 point scorer Grubb, did a particularly great job on the night. Coming off the bench, Hill outscored Grubb — 8-5 — and forced an absurd amount of turnovers, eventually ending the game with seven steals.
Jarrell was asked to pressure Mettler, the steady Bearcats’ point guard, and disrupt Paint Valley’s offensive flow. The senior contributors off the bench helped the Pioneers dominate the middle quarters of action, winning those periods by a combined 28-13 score.
Zane Trace seemingly couldn’t get over the hump, continuously getting within a point before the Bearcats would extend their lead back out.
Not helping their cause, the Pioneers missed eight of their first nine attempts from 3-point range. But that all changed in the final two minutes of the first half.
Ream gathered an offensive rebound before drilling his second triple of the evening, and one trip later, Jarrell hit a rare 3 from the left wing that gave the Pioneers a 26-24 lead — one in which they never relinquished. Ben Nichols then drilled a corner 3 late in the half to push the Pioneers’ lead to 31-24 at the break.
Coming out of halftime, Hill scored on back-to-back steals and layups to extend the lead to 35-24. That’s when the massive front court of the Pioneers fully began to take over the contest. Baker (6-foot-8), Stonerock (6-4) and Nalin Robinson (6-4) controlled the glass, keeping various possessions alive, while also holding the Bearcats to one shot on the occasions where they were able to get shots off.
Halfway through the fourth quarter, it appeared the game was all but over as the Pioneers held onto a 45-35 lead.
But Mettler and Dax Estep each hit deep 3’s to cut the deficit to four and put some extra pressure on.
That pressure appeared to rattle the Pioneers at the free throw line. However, that’s where Robinson and Stonerock made their largest impact on the night. Zane Trace missed three free throws that the juniors were able to keep alive with offensive rebounds, all but securing the Pioneer victory.
Despite only shooting 6-for-16 from the stripe, the Pioneers finished with a 52-44 win to earn, at least, a share of the SVC title.
Mettler was a standout for the Bearcats, finishing with a game-high 17 points, including three treys. Estep was the only other Bearcat in double figures, closing with 10 points and a team-high seven rebounds. Grubb, who entered the game averaging 16.4 points per game, was held to only five points.
Stonerock led a balanced attack for the Pioneers with 12 points and eight rebounds. Baker added 10 points and seven boards while Hill and Ream each added eight points. Robinson was held to only four points, but added a game-high 10 rebounds.
The Pioneers will have a chance to win the league title outright on Friday as they travel to Southeastern. Meanwhile, Paint Valley will try and bounce back the same evening, going to Adena.