During the week of February 17th through the 23rd, the varsity boys basketball team competed in the district tournament in Elsberry, Missouri. The boys faced Silex on Saturday, the 19th, defeating them 33-19. On the 21st, the team beat McKinley 49-42, advancing onto the district championship game held on Friday, the 23rd. The boys played Elsberry, losing 51-40.
Senior guard Aiden Bailey stated, “I think that we played great throughout the week. We started off a little slow, but we got around to playing as best as we could. In the championship game, we played as hard as we could, but Elsberry was just the better and more experienced team and out played us in the second half of the game.”
Senior forward Abe Madden claimed, “Making it to the championship game was a cool experience, after not making it last year. I think we played aggressive, but the game just didn’t end up going our way.”
Coach Aaron Peirick gave his thoughts about the week by saying, “During the Silex game, we defended pretty well. They missed some shots too, which helped. In the first half, we just looked bad offensively. We were timid, unsure, and basically just playing scared to lose. We just didn't move the ball like we wanted to, didn't throw it inside enough, or make shots. We did defend pretty good though, which kept us in it. The second half, we looked like a different team offensively. All of our guys stepped up. I challenged Ethan Groner in particular to get it going and he responded. He hit two huge 3s for us and everything kind of started to click after that. Martin Lewis and Jay Eichelberger hit a couple 3s as well to help build our lead. Once we hit a couple of those shots, it opened things up inside and we were able to get some buckets around the rim. I was very impressed with us defensively in the second half. I thought Ethan Groner and Jay Eichelberger did especially nice jobs defensively. John Fleer hauled in a bunch of rebounds down there. We really didn't rebound it that well as a team for a stretch, and we lost a couple loose balls but we just kept fighting on that end and got stop after stop. It wasn't pretty, but I'm proud of our kids’ competitiveness and how they went out and got a win.”
He continued, “As far as McKinley goes, we played great for most of the game. We were shot out of a cannon to start with, which was huge. We turned it over our first 3 possessions, I think, but our next 7 or 8 in a row, we were nails on the offensive end. We just moved the ball so well. Their defense could not keep up with how fast we were moving the ball. We were so good offensively that they couldn't use their defensive pressure to feed their offense. Because they couldn't get in transition from their defense, they had to play against our set defense, which has been fairly stingy lately. We just did so many good things in that first quarter. They made runs at us in each of the following quarters, fueled by our own sloppiness, but we answered each run and never gave up the lead. Abe Madden was a very determined young man all game. He played his best game all year for us. Hit some huge shots, and guarded their best player all night. John Fleer was big inside for us again, like he is every night. I was also very happy with how our guards helped us on the boards. Martin Lewis, Kyle Brumels, and Jay Eichelberger all went hard to the boards. Jay, Kyle, and Martin also kept some pretty quick guys in front of them all night. Jay made a couple key defensive plays for us. Martin hit a big shot and a couple free throws late in the fourth, and when he was settled down, really did a nice job against their pressure and getting us layups. Ethan Groner played hard all night and finished well around the rim. It was just a solid team effort to get that win. We were very happy to be playing for the title.”
Ongoing, he stated, “Elsberry: I was really proud of how hard our kids played Friday. They played as hard as they could, but just ran into a good basketball team. We came out ready to go and never backed down or gave up. It took a couple of possessions for each team to settle in, but once we did, we shot the ball really well. We handled the ball, moved it quick, and finished possessions, which we needed to do in order to keep them out of transition. They had a hard time scoring against our set defense. In the second half, they spread their zone out on us and we had a hard time handling that. We got very stagnant and didn't move the ball like we did the first half. We looked unsure and were pretty sloppy with the basketball. Elsberry is a team that is very athletic and gets themselves going by getting into transition, so us throwing the basketball to them was fuel to the fire. We went kind of cold in the third quarter-- if we could have gotten a few more buckets in that quarter, things could have been more interesting at the end maybe. We never answered their run with a run of our own. We could get a bucket here and there, but never string any stop-score-stop-score together. I thought John Fleer worked really hard inside-- he had some pretty tough sledding with big, physical, athletic guys in there. Ethan Groner shot it good for us and was our catalyst in the first half. All of our guys really battled all night on the defensive end-- we really didn't match up with their size and athleticism that well, but we probably guarded good enough to win. They just got too many buckets from our turnovers. I wish we would have rebounded the ball better too. They also did a nice job closing the game out by hitting every free throw in the fourth quarter. I thought we gave them pretty much all they could handle, but we've [got to] tip our hat to them. They are a good basketball team.”
Lastly, Coach Peirick spoke about his thoughts on the season as a whole by stating, “Our kids were pretty resilient all year. I'm proud of them for that. I thought all of our guys improved as basketball players and grew as people as the season progressed. We got better as a team as the season went on. This is not to say we didn't have our ups and downs, but they just kept focused on the goal of playing for that district title and kept working toward that. The thing I like the most about our team is that we had that stretch through January where we lost a ton of close games but we wouldn't let ourselves give in. We also dealt with a decent amount of injuries and lineup fluctuations because of that. We just stayed pushing forward and were able to string together a pretty good last couple weeks to the season, winning-wise. I think it really shows how tough these guys are that they were able to fight through all of that, physically and mentally, come together as a team, and play their best basketball at the end of the year.”