Pacific had plenty of motivation for its matchup Saturday against Lutheran South in the championship game of the Union Boys Basketball Tournament.
Not only were the Indians shooting for their second tournament championship of the season, but they were playing against a Lutheran South team that knocked them out of last year’s district tournament.
The top-seeded Indians (12-7) trailed the second-seeded Lancers 40-32 with 5:24 remaining in the fourth quarter, but ended the game on a 22-6 run to register a 54-46 victory.
“Even though we were down by eight points with five minutes to go, we didn’t fold. We knew we still had a chance,” said Pacific Head Coach John VanLeer. “We didn’t rush things and got good shots. We attacked with a purpose and made the extra pass. We really locked down on defense, pressured the ball harder and forced some turnovers.”
Pacific sophomore Cullen VanLeer was named the tournament’s most valuable player. He had 24 points, three rebounds, three steals and two assists in the title game.
Senior Zeth Boyer and junior Tanner Brown also were named to the all-tournament team.
Boyer collected 10 points, six rebounds and five assists against Lutheran South.
Brown scored 12 points, all in the fourth quarter, which sparked Pacific’s rally.
“Being a first-year starter, it feels great to win our second tournament,” Brown said. “It really took a team effort to win it. Defense was our key factor against some good-scoring opponents.”
Noah Boyer finished the championship game with eight points.
Jeffrey Hinkle grabbed four rebounds. Zack Kraus added two assists. Neil DeBold, Brendan Jett-Kell and Logan Armstrong also played.
Parker Van Nest paced the Lancers (9-8) with 12 points and seven rebounds. Brandon Downey added 11 points.
“You have to give Lutheran South credit. They’re a good basketball team,” VanLeer said. “It was a good battle all the way.”
Pacific held leads of 10-9 after one quarter and 24-20 at halftime.
Leading 33-30 after three quarters, the Lancers opened the fourth quarter on a 7-2 run to grab the eight-point advantage.
The Indians took control in the final five minutes. Brown scored 12 of the 22 points.
“We kept the energy up and got over the hump in the fourth quarter,” Brown said.
Pacific was 8-8 from the free-throw line in the final 45 seconds to seal the win.
Noah Boyer hit four free throws while Brown and VanLeer both made two.
“Zeth was hot early in the game and made some buckets. Cullen kind of carried us in the second quarter. We really struggled in the third quarter and then found ourselves down by eight points in the fourth,” VanLeer said. “Tanner got us going with some big baskets. Noah made some clutch free throws. We were 11-11 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.”
After going 1-2 to start the season at the Borgia Tournament, Pacific won titles at Owensville and Union.
“We still have one more we want to get,” VanLeer said, referring to the district tournament. “I’m proud of the guys, but we can’t be satisfied. We have to keep getting better. This is the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve won this tournament. Coming back to my hometown, it’s neat to finally win it.”
Pacific advanced to the title game with a 47-31 win Friday over fifth-seeded St. Clair (8-10).
It was again a big fourth quarter for the Indians, who outscored the Bulldogs 18-6 in the final eight minutes.
“We just kind of took the game over in the fourth quarter. We locked down on defense. We took care of the ball and got good shots,” VanLeer said. “I just think we outhustled them to loose balls and outrebounded them in the fourth quarter.”
Pacific held leads of 15-8 after one quarter, 23-17 at halftime and 29-25 after three quarters.
“We played a really good game for three quarters. We did a nice job defensively. There were some mental lapses here and there,” said St. Clair Head Coach Casey Korn. “Pacific understands how to win games. We’re not at that level yet, but we’re getting better at it. You learn how to win by winning games.”
Brown led Pacific with 20 points, four rebounds and three assists.
“I gave the team a little burst. Zeth had a great game,” Brown said. “Cullen has a load off his shoulders from last year because he has more people around him who can score.”
VanLeer collected seven points, five rebounds and five assists.
Zeth Boyer added six points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals.
DeBold and Kraus both scored five points. Kraus added four rebounds. Noah Boyer and Hinkle both scored two points. Hinkle had five rebounds.
“It was a physical game. Casey has those guys playing hard,” VanLeer said. “Our kids battled through it and played tough.”
Neyko Dominguez scored 15 points to pace St. Clair.
Will Rolley finished with six points. Austin Gotway added four points. Adam Brott, Evan Murphy and Brandon York each had two points.
“Pacific is a good team. They played really good defense,” Korn said. “They hit two shots early in the fourth quarter and our guys kind of panicked.”