The to-do list for Pacific boys basketball got one item shorter Tuesday.
The Indians (21-5) concluded its old business from last season with Sullivan (14-13), eliminating the Eagles in the Class 4 District 6 semifinals at Union, 49-43.
Sullivan had not only taken the Four Rivers Conference championship from Pacific last season, but also ended the Indians’ season at this same stage in double overtime a year ago.
This season Pacific finished a sweep of the conference by beating Sullivan less than two weeks ago before also checking off another box by getting past the Eagles in the district tournament.
“They didn’t feel like they played well,” Pacific Head Coach John VanLeer said of his team after the win. “We just felt like we survived. We didn’t play very well, but we’re going to find a way. Now, it’s survive and advance. It’s kind of funny, last year in the conference game Sullivan beat us bad and then in overtime (in the district semifinals) they ended up winning. We beat them bad in the conference (this season) and then this game, it didn’t go to overtime, but it was a tough game. We always play tough against each other. It’s a fun game to play in.”
Tuesday’s win leaves at least one last item on the Indians’ checklist. Pacific plays Borgia (13-13) for the district championship Friday night at 7 p.m., once again at Union, where they will look for the first district title under VanLeer’s tenure as head coach.
The second meeting with Sullivan this season presented a more difficult challenge than in Pacific’s 56-38 victory the first go round.
“I’m proud of the kids’ effort,” Sullivan Head Coach Dino McKinney said. “Just maybe a few mental mistakes and a few fouls that we shouldn’t have made that gave them some three-point plays. ...I think we showed we can play with a lot of people. We just couldn’t get over the hump.”
Tuesday, the Eagles jumped on top of Pacific 14-11 at the end of the first period.
Sullivan then had a surprise left for the Indians and used a defensive scheme VanLeer didn’t expect to hold Pacific off the scoreboard for the first five minutes of the period.
“As good as they are, we had to throw something new at them,” McKinney said. “We knew it wouldn’t last for the whole game, but it’d buy us some time to build up a bit of a lead.”
The scoring drought allowed Sullivan to push its lead up to seven points, 18-11.
“We were just really struggling to score,” VanLeer said. “Sullivan just came out with a really good game plan. Dino does a great job and they came out and they showed a defense that they haven’t played all year that I’ve seen and I’ve probably seen them play 10-12 times on film. Offensively, we struggled to score and we wanted to be patient but we weren’t getting any paint touches. Somebody said something like ‘We’ve got four fouls and they don’t have any.’ Well, it’s because we weren’t being aggressive.”
The momentum then started to swing in Pacific’s favor as point guard Trey Boyer stepped up in a big way, knocking down his first seven of his game high 17 points of the game within a minute and a half.
Boyer’s effort forced the Eagles attention to him, freeing up teammate Cameron VanLeer for a three-point basket from the corner that temporarily gave Pacific the lead. It was the only basket of the first half for VanLeer, whom the Eagles held to just nine points on the night, keeping him under double figures for just the third game this season.
“Trey started attacking and then we got going,” Coach Van Leer said. “That was a big shot. Trey made big ones to get us going. Cam fed off that. They feed off each other. Our defensive intensity once Trey got going got better.”
Following VanLeer’s three-point basket, Sullivan got a quick two on the other end and Eagles guard Cody McKinney dove on a loose ball back on the Pacific end to prevent a potential go-ahead basket on the last possession of the half. Sullivan held a slight 22-21 lead at the intermission.
Pacific took the lead again in the third quarter and didn’t give it back, taking a 35-33 advantage into the final period.
The Indians’ lead held up at 41-38 with 2:24 to play.
From there, Pacific stretched the lead up to seven while holding Sullivan to just one field goal beyond that point, a last gasp three-point make for Austin Frye in the final 30 seconds that cut the lead to four.
However, the Indians made good on 10-12 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter to polish off the win.
“Free throws are always huge in a game,” Coach VanLeer said. “... We held them under 45 and we take pride in our defense. That’s what we live and die on.”
Matt Strong added nine points for the Indians.
Tom Hennessy and Ryan Sauvage each netted four points.
Jordan Cowsert rounded out the Pacific scoresheet with three points.
Cameron VanLeer led the Indians with five rebounds and five assists, adding one steal and one blocked shot.
Sauvage and Strong pulled down four rebounds each. Strong dealt out two assists.
Boyer grabbed two rebounds with two steals and one assist.
Cowsert recorded two assists.
Cody McKinney led the Eagles’ offense with 15 points, adding six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Caleb Todd netted 11 points with one rebound.
Frye and Austin Lewis each finished with five points. Lewis recorded two assists and Frye one.
Other Sullivan scorers were Jacob Rohrer with four points and Landon Hoffman with three. Hoffman recorded two rebounds and one assist. Rohrer picked up one rebound and one assist.