Pacific was victorious in its final boys basketball game of the regular season, but also suffered a huge loss in the injury department.
Sophomore guard Cullen VanLeer, who averages 18 points and nearly five assists per game, suffered an injury to his right knee during the game and will miss the remainder of the season.
The Indians (16-9) won their home game over De Soto (15-10), 47-35.
Late in the first quarter, VanLeer got a steal and moved in for a layup.
“On his way up, he felt something pop,” said John VanLeer, Cullen’s father and Pacific’s head coach. “There wasn’t much contact with another player. He might have gotten clipped on the arm, but not enough for a foul to be called.”
VanLeer’s injury is a tibial tubercle fracture. There’s a broken bone where the patellar tendon connects to the top of the tibia, which likely will require surgery.
The hope is for VanLeer to return in time for the district golf tournament this spring. He was a state qualifier last year as a freshman.
“It’s very disappointing. Cullen has put a lot of time in basketball. But that’s life. Unfortunately, things like this happen sometimes,” VanLeer said. “We have to move on as a team. Hopefully we can play with some extra inspiration. We want to play for Cullen and prove that we’re a complete basketball team. Cullen knows the game very well. He’ll be an extra coach for us on the bench.”
VanLeer, who ends his sophomore season with 887 career points, appears to be in good spirits.
“He’s OK. He’s taking it pretty well,” John VanLeer said. “We’re glad he’s a sophomore and not a senior.”
Coach VanLeer said that Cullen had a message for his team the night of his injury.
“Cullen asked me to tell the team that even though he’s done for the season, the team isn’t,” VanLeer said.
John VanLeer, always a confident individual, still has faith in the Indians.
“We’ll be up for the challenge. We still have a lot of good athletes and players on our team. I expect us to play well,” VanLeer said. “We don’t have anyone who can do what Cullen can do. We’re not going to have anyone hit 26-foot three-pointers. The kids just have to step up and play their roles a little better. I’m confident in our guys. If we play solid defense, I still think we can do well and win.”
VanLeer said after the injury, the Indians played a solid game.
“We outplayed and outscored a good De Soto team with 15 wins 33-25 after Cullen’s injury. Our defense was really good,” VanLeer said. “Zach Kraus did a good job at point guard, taking over for Cullen. Tanner Brown also played a little at the point.”
Tanner Brown paced Pacific with 10 points and four assists.
Zach Kraus added nine points, three rebounds and two steals.
Logan Armstrong netted eight points.
Zeth Boyer, Noah Boyer and VanLeer each scored six points. Zeth added five rebounds and two assists. Noah had four assists.
Jeffrey Hinkle had two points and three rebounds.
Also playing were Neil DeBold, Brendan Jett-Kell, Stephen Watson, Brandon Colter and Brett Mann.
Pacific shot 36 percent from the field and was 10-23 from the free-throw line.
The Indians held leads of 14-10 after one quarter, 30-20 at halftime and 40-26 after three quarters.
“I thought our kids reacted pretty well after losing our best player. We still played pretty well,” VanLeer said. “We struggled from the free-throw line. If we would have hit our free throws, we would have blown them out.”
The Indians’ junior varsity team ended the season with a record of 14-10 overall and 6-1 in the Four Rivers Conference.
Pacific hosts next week’s Class 4 District 9 Tournament. The second-seeded Indians received a first-round bye and will play either third-seeded Sullivan or sixth-seeded Owensville in the semifinals Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
“I think it’s wide open. (Seth) Mesey is hurt for Sullivan, so I’m not sure of his status. We’re without Cullen,” VanLeer said. “St. Clair and Borgia are strong. If Union plays well, they have a shot. It’s a good district. I think there will be some good games.”