ATHENS - The Oak Hill Oaks took down Paint Valley, 68-52, Saturday night in the semifinals of the boys' district tournament in Division III at the Ohio University Convocation Center in Athens.
For the second consecutive season, the Oaks defeated Paint Valley to advance to the finals. Last year, Oak Hill defeated the Bearcats 47-46, before falling to Southeastern, 35-31, in the district finals.
Saturday's game was certainly different from last year's matchup against the Bearcats and big man Dylan Swingle.
"Last year, Brett Long got into foul trouble. He had two fouls in the first quarter so we had to put Nolan (Carroll) on their big man. He did a really good job," said Oak Hill head coach Norm Persin. "This year, we had help.
"I thought Mason (Darby) did a good job and Brett Long played off of him to double him. Then we put Chase (Hammond) in there just to give those guys a break and he banged with them pretty well."
With the win, the top-seeded Oaks advance to Saturday's finals where they will meet third-seeded Eastern Pike, who was a 59-45 winner over Southeastern in the fourth semifinal game played on Saturday.
Oak Hill (21-2) used a 12-2 spurt in the fourth quarter, which was the turning point that put away the game. Nine straight points by Mitchell Hale turned a seven-point Oak Hill lead into an insurmountable 17-point advantage with 4:34 left to play.
Hale finished with a game-high 24-points, along with five rebounds, two assists, and one steal. Three other Oaks finished in double-figures, including Nolan Carroll, who had 13 points. Mason Darby added 12 points and 12 rebounds to finish with a double-double, while Landon Carroll chipped in with 10 points.
The Oaks shot 50 percent from the field (25 of 50), with eight 3-pointers and out-rebounded Paint Valley 31-27. The Oaks also forced eight Paint Valley turnovers and recorded six steals.
The effort was certainly there and Coach Persin said it was the best effort his team has had in a long time.
"We wanted to run and get up and down the floor," said Persin. "We got some steals and I thought we did a heck of a job rebounding. Almost every possession they had, we allowed them one and out.
"I thought Nolan Carroll hit some great shots for us tonight because they were leaving him open. I think he ended up hitting four shots on the baseline and then, he hit a three. He also did a great job of defending their second-leading scorer, holding him under eight points."
There were two ties and three lead changes to start the game, as the Oaks trailed 16-15 after one-quarter of play.
The lead changed hands three more times in the second quarter before Oak Hill used a 10-0 run - highlighted by a three-point play by Landon Carroll to begin the run, followed by a three-pointer by Hale - to take a 29-18 lead with 3:47 remaining.
But Paint Valley responded with an 11-4 run to close the margin to four, 33-29, at the break.
Paint Valley (17-8) chipped into the deficit to begin the second half of play on back-to-back field goals by Hunter Hamlin to even the game at 33-33.
However, a three-pointer by Hale ignited a 15-8 run, capped by Nolan Carroll's three-pointer that gave Oak Hill a 48-41 lead heading into the final quarter of play.
With the Oak Hill clinging to a seven-point lead, Nolan Carroll scored on a pull-up jumper and Darby hit two free throws, which was the start of a 12-2 run and a 60-43 lead with 4:34 left.
From there, the Oaks made 4 of 5 free throw attempts and got a pair of easy baskets from Nolan Carroll and Dalton Lewis to salt away the 16-point margin of victory.
"I told the kids after the game they were in the wrong locker room because this isn't the same team I've seen the last three weeks," said Persin. "But there's a lot of reasons for that. Brett Long is not in condition because he has missed so much, while Landon, Nolan, and Chase have had the flu.
"Those guys missed a lot of practice so I think it just threw everything off for us. But you are going to have your ups and downs, as well as bumps and things like that. All of sudden, now this is the most important time to play so we've got to play."
Swingle scored a team-high 23 points and had 11 rebounds to pace the Bearcats. But he really didn't create a lot of damage inside against the Oaks. Instead, they forced him outside and most of his scoring came from 15-feet away.
"What was happening was he was going out there and Mason was letting him and we got out and crowded him," Persin said. "But when he catches it down in the paint, there's nothing we are going to do to stop him.
"You can take your poison. You have to give something up to make things happen and I thought that's what we did tonight."
Hamlin finished with 10 points, while Cruz McFadden added nine points and Bryce Newland had eight points for Paint Valley, which shot 42.3 percent from the field (22 of 52).
Tip-off for Saturday's game between the Oaks and Eastern Pike is at 8 p.m. and can be heard live on WCJO 97.7-FM and mixlr.com.