In a game that at times was more prize fight than basketball, the Three Rivers Christian boys proved they could swing with the 1B heavyweights Saturday afternoon.
Facing the same team that beat them in the state quarterfinals last March, the Eagles reasserted their identity as a defensive monster in a 49-36 victory over Shorewood Christian.
The “Beast Mode” zone that carried them to a fourth-place state trophy a season ago was at its long-armed, lock-step best as TRC shook off a two-game losing streak with its first win of the season.
“That was a grinder,” TRC coach Jim Murphy said. “That was brutal, the refs let them play. I was happy the way we responded, though. We didn’t back down from the physical battle of it.”
Instead, the Eagles rose to the occasion, grabbing 16 steals as a team and frustrating Shorewood Christian into even more turnovers as they turned an 18-all halftime tie into a double-digit rout.
Senior Ian Hoffman was at the center of it all in the middle of the TRC zone, racking up 15 points, six rebounds and five steals with his typical all-court fury.
Senior point guard Danny Hull controlled the tempo en route to 10 points and five assists, and post Caleb Moore held down the paint with eight points, three steals and four assists.
Throw in a perfect 14 for 14 from the free-throw line, and the Eagles finally put together the complete game that eluded them in early season losses to an Australian team and 1A power Mountain Rainier Lutheran.
“That’s why we scheduled these really, really tough games. They show us where our weaknesses are,” Hull said.
“The last two games we saw how we didn’t drive it to the hole, we haven’t been getting rebounds, turning it over too much. That’s what we want. We would rather lose games at the beginning to show us what we need to do at the end, so we can get back to state.”
The two teams felt each other out during a frantic first half that featured plenty of collisions in the paint as each did its best to establish an inside game against an opposing defense that wouldn’t budge.
In the third quarter, however, TRC took control, thanks in part to a halftime switch to a 3-2 zone.
A concerted effort to attack the hoop finally started paying dividends as well after Seth Carns loosened things up with a 3-pointer from the wing a minute into the fourth quarter — one of just two long-range shots by TRC all game.
Hull nailed a pull-up jumper from the elbow not long after, then sliced his way to the hoop for two more to give the Eagles a 37-29 advantage with three minutes to go.
The way the TRC zone was holding things down on the other end, that eight-point edge might as well have been 20, especially with the Eagles hitting 10 of 10 free throws down the stretch.
“I was really impressed with their hands tonight,” Murphy said. “They all had their arms out, they seemed to disrupt passing lanes, and that’s they way you’ve got to play out of the zone.”
Karsten Rentner added four points, three steals and three assists for TRC, Caleb Moore had four points and three steals and Carns had seven points before rolling his ankle with two minutes to go.
It was just the sort of thing TRC didn’t want to see with sharp-shooter Eric Powell already out with an ankle injury of his own. But with plenty of season still left, there were few frowns in the postgame scene.
“It was a good win for us, we needed it,” Murphy said. “This is a morale booster. The first couple have been kind of rocky.”
Eagles 49, Lions 36
SHOREWOOD CHRISTIAN (36) — Stan Domingo 4, Jovi Fevaleaki 15, Nikko Morris 2, Nebia Melaki 2, J.J. Young 13.
THREE RIVERS CHRISTIAN (49) — Karsten Rentner 4, Ian Hoffman 16, Seth Carns 7, Caleb Moore 8, Danny Hull 10, Matthew Hull 4, Kyle L’Amie 0, Nolan LaBiche 0, Parker Doolin.
Shorewood 10 8 11 7 — 36
Three Rivers 10 8 12 19 — 49