By Bill Battle
Missourian Sports Editor
Jumping out to a double-digit lead, the Pacific Indians sent notice that they’re prepared to defend their Four Rivers Conference title this season.
John VanLeer’s Indians (5-2, 1-0) keyed their fifth consecutive victory with an 8-0 first quarter against the host Union Wildcats (2-5, 0-1). Pacific won the league game, 57-34.
“It was a good game,” VanLeer said. “We came out defensively ready. The kids did a good job listening to the scouting report about how to guard them.”
While Pacific shut out Union, the Indians didn’t exactly scorch the nets offensively in the first quarter with only eight points.
“It was a tough one that is for sure,” Union Head Coach Chris Simmons said. “We just could not get going offensively. We have to fix our problems of slow starts and early turnovers. Defensively, we really made them hurt early, but we could not take advantage of it on the offensive end.”
“We shut them out, but struggled offensively with only eight points in the first quarter,” VanLeer said. “We kept playing good defense and only allowed 10 points in the first half. The defensive effort was outstanding.”
Pacific built the lead up to double digits before Union finally scored a basket to break the drought.
But if the 24-10 halftime lead wasn’t enough, Pacific continued its offensive assault in the third quarter, settling the outcome. The Indians led 44-17 after three quarters.
“We had a big third quarter,” VanLeer said. “Noah Boyer hit three threes and Brendan Jett-Kell hit two. We put the game away.”
The Indians had balanced scoring with sophomore Cullen VanLeer leading the way.
“Union played a box and one on Cullen, but his best attribute is his passing,” VanLeer said. “He just missed a triple-double.”
Cullen VanLeer ended with 13 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and four steals.
After VanLeer, Boyer and Jett-Kell each scored nine points. Jett-Kell also had two assists.
Jeffrey Hinkle netted seven points, five rebounds and two steals.
Zeth Boyer had six points, four rebounds, three steals and two assists.
Neil DeBold scored six points with two rebounds.
Logan Armstrong and Tanner Brown scored three points apiece. Brown also had three assists and three rebounds.
Zach Kraus scored one point with one assist.
Also playing were Brandon Colter (one assist), Brett Mann (one rebound) and Stephen Watson (two rebounds).
“If we can get balanced scoring like that, it will be tough for people to beat us. That makes the game more fun.”
Union’s leading scorer was Blake Hulsey, who netted 15 points and added two assists, two rebounds and two steals.
Simmons said Hulsey played strong defense against VanLeer.
“Blake really played tough defense on Cullen, who is a special player,” Simmons said. “Other guys stepped up and made big shots in the third quarter especially.”
Nick Ziegler followed with six points, four rebounds and two steals.
Brandon Ford fouled out with five points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.
Brian Borgmann had three points and one rebound. Dylan Small netted three points with two rebounds and an assist.
Ashton Dehn had two points, four rebounds and an assist. Also playing were Kory Lucas and TJ Vitt (three assists, two rebounds).
Both schools enjoyed tremendous student fan support with large crowds attending the game from both sides.
“The student section has been nothing but awesome,” VanLeer said. “They took a pep bus to Farmington last week with 72 kids. They helped us get the win. That’s the way high school basketball is supposed to be. The whole school has jumped on board.”
Pacific’s “Tribe” cheering section had opposition from Union’s “Red Nation” cheering section which has been formed this year.
“The crowd was great,” Simmons said. “We have made a strong push to our student section to games. They call themselves the Red Nation and they came out in full force and did a great job supporting us. An atmosphere like that makes it so much fun for everyone involved.”
Both teams have challenging Four Rivers Conference contests set for Friday.
The Indians return home to host New Haven (4-3, 0-1) while Union visits St. James (8-0, 1-0).
“Ray Steinhoff does a great job with New Haven,” VanLeer said. “He’s the dean of the Four Rivers Conference coaches. He’s one of the best coaches in the state. He will have his team prepared and we know they’re going to do stuff defensively. The number of set plays they run is unbelievable. We’ve got to come ready to play. It will be a really tough game for us. New Haven can beat anyone on any night.”
Union faces a daunting task when it visits Phelps County to play the unbeaten Tigers.
“We have to learn from our mistakes and get after it in practice because we have no time to feel sorry for ourselves as St. James is a tough team, especially at their place,” Simmons said. “We will work hard in practice, prepare for St. James and go out there and give it our best shot.”