BRIDGEPORT - Donnie Cash knows his Bridgeport boys' basketball team can't afford any letdowns as the cut-off date the the Wheeling Hospital OVAC Championships is not too far away.
The Bulldogs are locked in a very tight 5-team battle for the fourth - and final - spot in the Class 2A field. Entering the week, Cash's squad was sitting in that coveted fourth spot with 27.667 points, but breathing down their necks are Cameron (24.000), Shadyside (23.867), Clay-Battelle (23.000) and Frontier (20.308).
The deadline is Tuesday, Feb. 4.
However, Cash also knows that if his team takes care of its business, things should fall in place. The Bulldogs did just that Wednesday night inside the John J. Havlicek Gymnasium with a come-from-behind, 60-51, triumph over visiting River (2-12) on Frank Baxter Court.
"This is a big win for us," Cash said. "We're in the thick of things for that final spot in the 2A race, so we know we can't let one slip away. It's nice to get a win, especially against a team in our sectional."
Tied at 34 late in the third quarter, Bridgeport's Bailey McGrath dialed long distance from the right corner and teammate QJ Williams went coast-to-coast with a steal on the ensuing Pilots' possession for a 39-34 lead after 24 minutes of action.
That sparked a 11-3 run that River could never overcome as Bridgeport built a 13-point lead and coasted.
"We had our opportunities, but we couldn't cash them in," River head coach Mark Romick lamented. "Youthfulness. I don't want to use that as an excuse because you're a basketball player, but the unforced turnovers killed us."
The Pilots, who led 14-9 after one period, turned the ball over three straight times during Bridgeport's run that spanned the third and fourth quarters.
"We threw the ball into the backcourt that resulted in a layup for them, and then we threw it out of bounds two straight times," Romick recalled. "They came up and pressured us on the wing and we didn't do what we were supposed to do, and the results were turnovers."
The Bulldogs battled back after the slow start to knot things at 22 the halftime break. The tightly contested game would be deadlocked three times in the third stanza before the hosts pulled away.
"I thought they were the more aggressive team in the first half," Cash said of River. "We were lucky to be tied at the half, but we came out more aggressive in the second half and made more plays than they did down the stretch."
The two catalysts for Bridgeport in the second half were Williams and 6-6 Parker Dyson. Williams, a junior, tallied 11 of his team-high 17 after the intermission, while Dyson worked his way inside for 12 of his 14. J.C. Cash added 10, while McGrath and Koty Seevers evenly divided 16.
"We shared the ball very well tonight," Cash said after watching his team mesh 22 of 34 shots (65 percent) from the floor. "I think we had some great (scoring) balance. We were more patient in the second half and we took care of the ball a lot better."
Indeed they did. The Bulldogs had 14 turnovers, but 10 of them came in the first half.
River, which also shot the ball well, had 14 turnovers, as well. However, six of them came in the second quarter when Bridgeport made a run to tie it and four came in the fourth quarter, aiding the Bulldogs' late run.
"You're not freshman and sophomore anymore this late into the season," Romick said. "We played a lot better tonight offensively, but we need to cut down on the turnovers."
Bridgeport held a 28-20 edge on the glass as Williams grabbed eight and Dyson six, to go along with three blocked shots and a like number of assists. Williams and Cash each had three steals.
Freshman Parker Caretti was a spark for the Pilots, scoring a game-high 20 points. Eric Dierkes added 11 and Jarrett Armann finished with eight.
River avoided a sweep by winning the JV game in overtime. Varsity scoring:
RIVER (51) - Indermuhle 1 2-4 5; Caretti 8 1-2 20; Dierkes 4 3-4 11; Armann 4 0-0 8; Flannery 1 0-0 2; Amos 1 0-0 2; Isaly 0 0-0 0; Ramsier 0 0-0 0; Curtis 1 0-0 3; Totals: 20-39 6-10. BRIDGEPORT (60) - Seevers 2 4-6 8; Cash 4 1-4 10; McGrath 3 0-0 8; Williams 7 3-4 17; Dyson 5 4-6 14; Sieber 1 1-4 3; Herink 0 0-0 0; Totals: 22-34 13-26.
Three-Point Goals: River 5 (Caretti 3, Indermuhle, Curtis); Bridgeport 3 (McGrath 2, Cash)