Lynchburg-Clay senior Eric McLaughlin, right, led the Mustangs with 19 points in the district semifinal loss to Wheelersburg. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)
Lynchburg-Clay senior Eric McLaughlin, right, led the Mustangs with 19 points in the district semifinal loss to Wheelersburg. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)

ATHENS — The Lynchburg-Clay Mustangs had their season come to an end at the Ohio University Convocation Center on Saturday afternoon, falling in the Division III SE District Semifinals to the Wheelersburg Pirates 66-51.

Lynchburg-Clay, who was the final basketball team from Highland County left standing, returned to the Convo this season after a one-year absence from the district round as they won twice this postseason with wins over Adena (78-68) and Portsmouth (47-42). On Saturday, though, the end of the tournament trail came for LC, as they played a solid first half, but the second half was controlled by the Pirates.

"The trapping to start the third quarter ... we knew they were going to do that type of stuff, and we didn't handle it well," LC head coach Matt Carson said. "The lead they extended too, and though it was only an eight-point lead, that took us out of what we wanted to do defensively. Credit our kids, we kept grinding, and that game was a lot closer than what the final score shows.

"I want to credit the guys for coming out and for having a great year. They did what we asked of them, and they are a joy to be around."

The first quarter saw the Mustangs struggle offensively, trailing 13-9 after eight minutes of action with Wheelersburg (19-3) opening with a 7-0 run off a game-opening 3-pointer from Cole Lowery as he totaled 12 points against the Mustangs.

Next was a tip-in from Tanner Holden, and he followed that up with a put-back basket for the seven-point lead with 4:50 left in the first. Holden ended the game with 17 points, as he was 6-of-6 from the free-throw line.

LC (7-6, 15-9) scored their first points of the game with a bucket from Raymond Conner, who was fouled with the basket counting. The sophomore made it a three-point play by converting the ensuing free throw at the 4:24 mark of the first.

The Pirates had an answer with a hook shot from Mack Dyer, only to see the Mustangs come back with a 3-pointer by Noble Walker for a 9-6 score as Walker finished the game with six points.

The next four points were scored by the Pirates, all from Holden, and the final points of the first quarter came at the 1:19 mark as the Mustangs had a 3-pointer by Eric McLaughlin for a 13-9 deficit. McLaughlin finished the game with 19 points, as he finishes his LC four-year varsity career as the third all-time leading scorer in the boys program history.

Lynchburg-Clay played much smoother in the second quarter, outscoring the Pirates 16-11 in the quarter and taking a 25-24 halftime lead with the help of McLaughlin, who scored six of his nine first-half points, including a four-point play with 54.9 left in the second.

Before that four-point play, the Mustangs scored first in the second with a bucket from Chris Young, followed by two points by Raymond Conner with 6:09 left in the quarter. Following a 3-pointer by Trent Salyers of Wheelersburg to increase their lead to five points, LC scored the next seven points of the game with a jumper from McLaughlin, a layup by Conner and a 3-pointer from Damin Pierson at the 2:10 mark put LC in front for the first time at 18-16. Pierson totaled 10 points in the loss.

A trey by Holden momentarily put the Pirates back in front, but 13 seconds later, McLaughlin made his four-point play as he was fouled while sinking a 3-pointer with 54.9 left in the first half.

Wheelersburg came back with a layup from Connor Mullins, only to see the Mustangs again connect from beyond the arc with a 3-pointer by Walker with 13 seconds on the clock. Wheelersburg scored the final points of the first with a 3-pointer of their own by JJ Truitt near the buzzer with 1.7 left in the opening frame. Truitt finished with 17 points for the Pirates, ending the day 8-of-8 from the free-throw line.

Even with the very late 3-pointer by the Pirates, the Mustangs still led by a point at 25-24.

The second half didn’t go as well as the Mustangs would have hoped, as the Pirates went on a 9-0 run to start the third, resulting in the Mustangs going from a one-point lead to trailing by eight points 33-25. The run finally stopped when Conner, who finished with seven points, put up two points in the paint, but ultimately the Mustangs trailed 47-38 after three frames.

In the third, the Mustangs had scoring from Pierson, Young, Hilt and McLaughlin with Pierson hitting a 3-pointer with 4:07 left on the clock, then making it a 36-30 deficit. Later in the third, McLaughlin sank a trey to get LC back to within nine points at 42-33 with 2:40 left in the quarter.

LC ended the third with the final three points off a free throw by Pierson and a put-back by McLaughlin.

The Mustangs never were able to regain the lead after losing it at the beginning of the third, as the closest they got was within four points of tying the score with 4:26 left in regulation following a jumper by McLaughlin.

From there, the deficit for the Mustangs stayed mostly in double figures, as the Pirates took a 10-point lead with 3:17 left on the clock. LC did cut the deficit down to seven with a 3-pointer by Pierson at the 2:59 mark. Later in the quarter, Chris Young sank a free throw, and the final points of the game came from Hilt on a put-back. Hilt ended the game with six points.

Seniors for the Mustangs are Noble Walker, Eric McLaughlin, Austin Hilt, Blake Croy, Quintin Smith and Roger Saylor.

"We are going to miss these seniors," Carson said. "They are great role models for our community and great leaders in our basketball program. I've had a very exciting year with them, battled some adversity and came together as a family. They are an example of what you can accomplish if you work hard and believe."