STRUTHERS - Wellsville coach Dave Thompson can finally sleep in peace.
After last Saturday's regular-season finale against Toronto, Thompson left fearing he would enter tournament play without his full cast of players. In that game, an altercation during play eventually led to the ejection of both team's entire bench for stepping onto the court. At the time, Thompson believed all of those players would be suspended for the next two games.
"There were a couple of days where I didn't get much sleep," he said. "I was scrambling. I thought I'd have to bring up guys that hadn't played varsity at all."
However, on Tuesday night, Thompson was informed that the decision had been appealed and reversed.
Wellsville Athletic Director Don Elliott said both schools called the Ohio High School Athletic Association in Columbus, and the case was put under administrative review.
"We got confirmation that they're all eligible," Elliott said.
Toronto played its tournament opener on Wednesday, a 72-37 loss to Malvern, with its full roster.
"I'm glad it's over with," Thompson said. "It really wasn't anything. The referee went overboard. He called both coaches to mid-court and I thought he was going to tell us to make sure our kids calmed down. But then he said they were all ejected. I couldn't believe it."
The eligibility of the Wellsville players probably wasn't welcome news for Western Reserve fans. The Blue Devils are set to face the Tigers at 6 p.m. Saturday in a Division IV sectional final at the Struthers Fieldhouse.
"From what I understood, it was mostly bench kids that were ejected," Western Reserve coach Tom King said. "They don't play a whole lot of people anyway. I didn't figure it would be a big factor either way."
The Blue Devils (9-14) earned a date with the Tigers (19-3) by way of a 53-43 victory on Tuesday against Heartland Christian. Western Reserve trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half of that game.
"It was the tale of two halves," King said. "That's kind of been the story of our team this year. We play one good half, but can't always put together a full game. We can't have that against a team like Wellsville."
The Tigers earned the No. 1 seed in the Struthers district and also captured a share of the Inter-Tri County League's lower tier title, the team's first in five seasons.
"We've got to guard their shooters," King said. "There's no weakness in their starting five. They're all good outside shooters. Usually, there's one or two kids you have to worry about, but it's all five with Wellsville.
"They all know how to play the game. They sometimes ad-lib their offense, but they always make good plays. That's hard to defend."
Wellsville won both regular-season matchups between the two schools. The Tigers came away with a 69-43 decision in Berlin Center, and later captured a 64-52 victory in Wellsville.
"The second game they played us tough," Thompson said. "They're real scrappy and always play hard. They beat some good teams down the stretch. They're one of those teams that's always dangerous."
King said his team is "not great offensively" and the key will be to keep the score close and avoid falling into an early deficit.
"We were really inexperienced when the season started," he said. "The last 10 games, we've been pretty competitive. We're playing better. I'm not sure if we're good enough yet to beat a Wellsville, but we'll see."
Thompson also said he believes his team is playing its best basketball as tournament time nears with less turnovers and more assists being the keys to success.
"We've talked from the beginning of the season about this time right now," he said. "It's nice to win the league, no doubt, but I'd like to make it to regionals a whole lot more."