It will be a rematch of last year’s Class 4 District 9 boys basketball championship game Saturday in Pacific thanks to a mild upset Thursday night.
Third-seeded Sullivan (19-8) held off second-seed Pacific (16-9), 39-28.
That sets up a rematch of last year’s championship contest, a game Borgia won, 44-33.
“We’ve got to put four good quarters together,” Sullivan Head Coach Dino McKinney said. “We’ve seen them a couple of times. We know what they do and they know what we do. We’ve just got to get ready to play.”
Pacific Head Coach John VanLeer lauded his team’s defense.
“Our kids competed,” VanLeer said. “They played great defense. There were a couple of missed blockouts and a couple of inbounds plays where we didn’t communicate and didn’t guard right and gave them layups. Those eight points were huge in the game. They competed the whole time. We just struggled to score.”
Sullivan, a first-round winner Monday over Owensville, 34-25, never trailed in Thursday’s game.
The contest marked the second low-scoring game in a row for the Eagles.
McKinney said that Sullivan is comfortable playing at any pace, but is confident in its defensive ability.
“We saw some different defenses the last couple of games, so it leads to low-scoring games,” McKinney said. “We pride ourselves in playing good defense, too. We’ll have to see how the flow of the game goes. We’ve scored a lot of points at times and we’ve had games like this.”
Pacific made runs at different times. The Indians cut it to within a point early in the third quarter, but never could tie or take the lead in the second half.
Each team was without a key player.
The Indians missed sophomore Cullen VanLeer, who suffered a tibular tubercle fracture against De Soto in the final game of the regular season. He was seated behind the Pacific bench doing what he could to lend support to his teammates.
“When you take 19 points per game out of the lineup and a kid who leads you in most offensive categories, it’s tough,” VanLeer said. “Our kids tried to step up and do it. We’ve just got to spend some time in the gym shooting in the offseason.”
The Eagles were without Seth Mesey.
Pacific led 6-3 after one quarter as both teams struggled to find their shooting touches in the first eight minutes.
Sullivan’s JC Beckett scored the game’s first point, a free throw, with 6:08 to play in the quarter. Joey Lochner added a basket but Pacific’s Jeff Hinkle cut that advantage to 3-2 with Pacific’s first basket.
The Indians added buckets from Boyer and Tanner Brown to lead 6-3 after eight minutes of action.
Sullivan responded with the first 10 points of the second quarter.
Adam Tiefenbrunn, who came off the bench, hit a three-point basket to tie the game. Adam Weiland then scored off a rebound to give Sullivan the lead once again.
Weiland and Tiefenbrunn combined to score the next five points and give Sullivan a 13-6 advantage. Pacific got a shot from Logan Armstrong to close out the half, but Sullivan held a 13-8 lead.
Boyer had the hot hand to start the third quarter, but a basket from Chris Erxleben kept Sullivan on top. The Eagles built on that. Erxleben hit another basket and started a five-point run which gave Sullivan a cushion it never would relinquish.
Sullivan was up 13-8 at the half.
“I know we weren’t very happy with only having 13 points at the half,” McKinney said. “But I know they weren’t very happy with only having eight. When you score 13 points, you’re probably going to be losing. We’ve had 14 and 13 in the first two games of this tournament and still been leading.”
VanLeer said he was happy with the defense in the first half.
“Our defense was good and we felt happy at the half,” VanLeer said. “Then we came out and scored and made a little move. After that, we really struggled to score.”
Pacific came out and made its biggest run early in the third quarter. Senior Zeth Boyer scored six quick points and the Indians cut the lead to 15-14, but couldn’t add to the run.
Sullivan led 22-16 after three quarters and never let Pacific get close in the final quarter.
“We took care of the ball,” McKinney said. “Defensively, we were pretty good again.”
Tiefenbrunn led the Eagles with 13 points. He hit three three-point baskets in the game.
Weiland scored nine points for Sullivan.
Justin Biermann, Sullivan’s leading scorer, drew the focus of Pacific’s defense. The Indians held him without a field goal and all six of his points came at the free-throw line.
“They took a couple of our players away,” McKinney said. “They made sure Biermann didn’t get many. They played triangle and two and guarded him with a lot of help. Luckily other guys stepped up for us tonight.”
Erxleben and Lochner each scored four points.
Beckett ended with three points.
Also playing for the Eagles were Ryan Juergens, Marcus Mallory, Michael McDermott and Heath Schatz.
Boyer led the Indians with eight points.
Brown was next in scoring with six points. Armstrong scored four while Noah Boyer and Brendan Jett-Kell scored three points.
Jett-Kell came off the bench and immediately hit a three-point basket in the third quarter as Sullivan had started to pull away.
“Those two seniors (Boyer and Jett-Kell) stepped up and made a couple of buckets,” VanLeer said. “We just didn’t get rolling. We got shots, but we couldn’t knock them down. We weren’t getting to the free-throw line.”
Hinkle and Zach Kraus scored two points apiece.
Neil DeBold also played.
The Indians graduate five seniors from this year’s team. Seniors are Brandon Colter, Zeth Boyer, DeBold, Stephen Watson and Jett-Kell.
“We lose five great kids,” VanLeer said. “They’ve all been in the program since fourth or fifth grade. I couldn’t ask for better young men. They’re going to be successful in whatever they do. They showed leadership this year. We set a team goal and this is the best team defensive average we’ve had since I’ve been here. They really stepped up.”
VanLeer also thanked the fans.
“Our sixth man has been unreal,” VanLeer said. “Early in the season, we took a full bus of 72 down to Farmington. We had more people than they did that night. I’ll put our student body up against anybody else. I’m proud of them. That’s a big lift for our players. We only allowed 35 points at home this year and that has a lot to do with the toughness of our kids and support of our crowd.”