Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
ATHENS — Not so long ago, Zane Trace’s district title drought had reached 49 years.
Now, after Friday night, the Pioneers have claimed two district crowns in the past two seasons — and the program’s fourth-ever such title.
Led by seniors Nick Nesser and Cam Evans, the usual suspects, Zane Trace (22-3) shot better than 55 percent from the field and captured that elusive hardware again with a 51-41 victory over Ironton at Ohio University’s Convocation Center.
“It’s huge. We even had the chance to get some of the young guys in,” Nesser said. “They got a little bit of playing time on the Convo floor, which is huge. Our whole community was here supporting us and just getting the [win], it’s just huge.”
After trailing 5-2 out of the gates, back-to-back buckets from Nesser and Colby Swain put the Pioneers ahead 6-5. Nesser later connected for 3, giving him seven of the Pioneers’ first nine points.
Nesser finished with nine points in the quarter before Triton Davidson beat the buzzer with a bucket, giving the Pioneers a 13-9 lead heading into the second.
Then, Cam Evans got in on the fun.
While the first quarter belonged to Nesser, Evans claimed the second.
After an Ironton basket cut the lead to two, the senior guard scored the next seven points, pushing the lead to 18-11.
Evans ultimately finished with nine of the Pioneers’ 10 points in the frame, putting ZT ahead 23-20 at the break.
Despite the offense slowing down for both teams in the third, the Pioneers maintained their lead. While Davidson sat on the bench in foul trouble for much of the quarter, and second half for that matter, Nesser’s hot hand continued to show on the score sheet.
The 6-foot-7 senior continued to torment the Tigers’ defense, scoring eight of the Pioneers’ 10 points in the frame. That’s all while ZT’s defense held Ironton to zero field goals in the third … leading to a 33-26 edge heading to the fourth.
“Triton is freaky athletic. I’ve never seen anybody like him,” Nesser said. “He gets a hand on every ball. With him out of the game, I knew I had to step up because he carries a huge load.”
Sensing Ironton’s season on life support, Nalin Robinson connected on a rebound and putback to open the fourth, giving the Pioneers their biggest lead of the game at 35-26.
However, the Tigers fought back behind their standout forward, Reid Carrico.
Carrico’s use of the spin move inside the paint led to converted buckets, and extra opportunities at the foul line. He brought the Tigers back with six straight points, cutting the deficit to 35-32.
But the Pioneers countered with six of the next nine points, as Colby Swain once again put the win on ice from the charity stripe, for a 41-35 advantage before coach Gary Kellough’s crew ultimately punched their tickets to the Sweet 16.
Neser led all scorers with 20 points alongside eight rebounds and four assists while Evans finished with 15 points, four boards and four assists. Swain also chipped in with six points.
Carrico led Ironton (13-11) with 20 points and 10 rebounds while Jordan Grizzle scored seven points.
Zane Trace advances to a Division III regional semifinal against Harvest Prep, the defending state champions, at 6:15 p.m., Wednesday at Ohio University.
“We’re going to have to have a good week in practice,” Nesser said. “That’s especially defensively. [Harvest Prep] has some really quick guards and they shoot the 3 well. So we’ll have to focus on crashing the boards, boxing out and great perimeter defense.”
Ironton: 9-11-6-15 — 41
Zane Trace: 13-10-10-18 — 51
Ironton: 13-42 FG, 12-14 FT, 3-18 3 pt., 23 rebounds (Carrico 10), 11 turnovers, 5 assists (Salyers 3). Scoring: Carrico 20, Grizzle 7, Milleson 5, Hacker 4, Salyers 2.
Zane Trace: 19-34 FG, 12-21 FT, 1-4 3 pt., 19 rebounds (Nesser 8), 11 turnovers, 9 assists (Evans 4, Nesser 4). Scoring: Nesser 20, Evans 15, Swain 6, Davidson 4, Robinson 4, Johnson 1, Nichols 1.