Brock Netter, Staff Writer
PIKETON — Make no mistake about it … Valley is a team on the rise and will be one of the best in Southern Ohio in the coming years.
But right now, the Indians are going through the process of learning how to win with a group of mainly freshmen and sophomores.
Monday was that group’s first lesson.
After lighting it up from distance in the first half, Valley couldn’t find the range nor stop Piketon from getting to the bucket as the Redstreaks played bully ball in the post before escaping with a 52-50 victory.
“We played pretty well until the last three or four minutes, then we struggled to put Valley away,” Piketon coach Kyle Miller said. “There were a lot of problems taking care of the basketball and what was a seven-point lead turned into a two-point lead late, which is less than ideal. We’ve been quarantined, and our first day back was Black Friday so we’ve had two practices and a scrimmage since. So I’m happy we survived.”
The Redstreaks (1-0) finished with three players in double-digit scoring figures, led by Tra Swayne who finished with a career-high 20 points alongside seven rebounds.
“I knew that I was bigger and stronger than most of Valley’s players, so I went in with the plan to attack the basket,” Swayne said. “Getting those 1-on-1’s, I knew I could take them and either get to the bucket or get fouled and knock down my free throws.”
Chris Chandler extended his range, burying a pair of 3’s on the night, ending with 12 points and six rebounds, while Levi Gullion added 11 points to the mix as well.
“Chris battled some foul trouble in the first half, but hit some huge shots down the stretch,” Miller said. “Levi played very well, showing his willingness to attack the rim. I thought Kyden Potts gave us some great energy as well and played very effectively.”
Most of the Redstreaks’ damage was done in the second half, but early on, they had no answer for Valley’s Jace Copley and Carter Nickel.
Copley buried a pair of triples before connecting on a baseline jumper, while Nickel also hit one from downtown and a runner, scoring all of Valley’s 13 first quarter points.
However, leading 13-7, the Indians (0-1) gave up a 5-0 run to Swayne and Brody Fuller, which closed the gap to 13-12 after the first.
Still holding a 19-16 lead, Valley’s Colt Buckle went on a personal 5-0 run that stretched the lead to eight. Although Valley connected on six 3’s in the first half, Piketon pieced together a 7-2 run to end the first half trailing just 26-23.
“Valley is a young team coached by one of the best to do it in all of Ohio,” Miller said. “They came out and hit a lot of shots from deep. Copley was huge and he’s going to be a really good player to watch for as he gains more experience. He had 11 points in the first half, so we adjusted and put Levi on him all second half to bother him with the physicality.”
While Gullion shut down Copley, who went scoreless in the second half, Swayne was just warming up. With Valley ahead 28-27, he connected on back-to-back shots at the rim to put Piketon ahead 31-28, and for good.
Gullion connected on two shots, Potts added two buckets and Swayne also dumped in four points as the Redstreaks began to pull away, leading 44-36 heading into the fourth.
“We’re a five-out team that likes to dribble drive, but our kids have the freedom to dump it in anytime they want into the post,” Miller said. “We were lucky enough to find those guys inside like Tra, Chris and Levi, who are strong, physical players that can finish around the rim.”
But Valley wasn’t going away quietly and Ty Perkins made sure of it. Held scoreless through three quarters, he began attacking the bucket and making free throws, cutting the lead to five points late.
Piketon pushed the lead to 51-44 with 1:27 left, but the Indians showed resiliency and forced three turnovers that turned into Bryce Stuart buckets, ultimately cutting the lead to 52-50 with a few seconds left.
After a missed free throw, Valley’s final heave at the buzzer ultimately fell short, sealing the narrow Redstreak victory.
“Honestly, I feel like we sucked,” Swayne said. “Our bread and butter is on defense, but Valley hit a lot of shots and we were gassed in the second half. We managed to hang on but we have Fairland in a couple days, so we have to get it together defensively.”
Stuart finished the game with 13 points and six rebounds for Valley, followed by Copley’s 11 points and nine points from Buckle.
Piketon returns to action on Thursday at Fairland, while Valley opens up SOC II action on Friday at home against South Webster.