For The Tribune
Trinity Lutheran coach Aaron Rudzinski said he wanted his team to control the tempo early during Friday night’s game against Medora in the Bollinger Athletic Complex.
After the Hornets took a 5-2 lead on a rebound basket by Chase Booker, the Cougars took control by going on a 17-0 run and that propelled them to a 61-48 win.
“We wanted to set the tone tonight from the start,” Rudzinski said. “We pressed them full-court. It didn’t really didn’t hurt them in the backcourt much, but in the front court it seemed to create some turnovers and rushed them into some shots.
The Cougars scored a variety of ways during their big rally from Toby VanLiew converting a 3-point play to Daniel Horton, Luke Stuckwisch and Clayton Pottschmidt driving for lay ups, to Keegan Rebber hitting a 3-point basket.
“Once we built that lead in the first quarter we took (the press) off and didn’t really go back to it and they were able to pull back within (8) points in the second quarter,” Rudzinski said.
Rebber had five points and VanLiew had four points during the run, and Pottschmidt’s layup made it a 19-5 game with 1:10 left in the period.
Trinity shot 10-for-17 from the floor and had only one turnover in the first period, while Medora shot 3-for-8 from the floor and had 8 turnovers during that time.
“That first quarter definitely killed us,” Hornets coach Michael Leitzman said. “We came out and in the first minute we were fine, and then one bad thing happened, and it was a snowball effect.”
“We got down 23-7 at the end of the first quarter and you cannot do that against a team like this. With that much talent you cannot dig yourself a 16-point hole.”
The Hornets, led by Jalen Beesley, settled down in the second period to outscore the Cougars 13-7 in the period.
A basket by Beesley cut the difference to 28-20 with 35 seconds remaining before Keenan Scifres scored for Trinity to make it a 30-20 game at the half.
Beesley made all four of his field goals, plus a free throw, in the period.
Trinity had only three turnovers in the second half and 13 for the game.
“They played us a mixture of some zone and some man maybe trying to keep us off-balance a little bit,” Rudzinski said. “Our guys did a good job of moving the ball against their zone. I thought we had some pretty good, open looks. We were able to knock down some shots.
Stuckwisch made two 3-pointers and had eight points, and VanLiew had one 3-pointer and seven points in the third quarter when the Cougars outscored the Hornets 19-11 to take a 49-31 lead into the fourth period.
The closest the Hornets could get in the fourth was the final 13-point difference.
VanLiew topped the Cougars in points (20) and rebounds (seven), and Stuckwisch added 12 points.
“Luke made some shots in the second half, and handled the ball really well for us and made good decisions, and that was big for us,” Rudzinski said. “We knew we had to control the boards tonight. We couldn’t let them get too many opportunities. Just about every game, that is our goal to prevent easy shots and only give them one opportunity per possession.”
Beesley topped the Hornets (5-11) with 14 points, and Booker and Kam Flynn added 13, while Austin Fish led in rebounds with 5.
“The biggest positive we got from this game we showed mental toughness tonight,” Leitzman said. “In the past few weeks, if we would have got down 23-7 we would have quit and got beat by 30 or 40 points. But, to their credit, and to the leadership from our guards, and our big guys too, they stepped up and made sure that wasn’t going to happen.
Trinity committed 6 of its 11 turnovers in the second period.
“We had some bad stretches in the third quarter, and in the fourth quarter fought our way back in a little bit,” Leitzman said. “We won the second and fourth quarters, and I told them we’ve got to watch the film and see what we did in the second and fourth quarters that were positives. Trinity won the sectional last year and that is where we need to be. We showed at times that we can compete. We need to build off the positives.”
Both teams will play again tonight with Trinity (11-4) traveling to Switzerland County, and Medora will be home to Rock Creek Academy.