MALVERN — For the first time since 2011, the East Mills boys basketball team cut down the nets at the Corner Conference Tournament.
East Mills (14-2 overall) defeated Sidney in a defensive-minded 35-27 slugfest in front of a packed East Mills High School gymnasium Saturday night for the conference title game.
“It’s a great experience for these kids,” East Mills Head Coach Kevin Schafer said. “None of these kids, they might have been sitting on the bench, but none of them really played on the previous championship so it’s a great experience for them. I love that we still have a conference tournament.”
Leading by 10 points entering the fourth quarter, East Mills was able to hold off an attempted rally by the Cowboys despite the Wolverines not shooting well.
“We had some good shots, but they didn’t fall. We didn’t use our pump fakes on [Jacob] Caine, he’s a very good shot blocker,” Schafer said. “Too many times we just got the ball and went up. I think we could have got him in foul trouble.”
The Wolverines were held scoreless for the first several minutes of the fourth quarter as Sidney inched closer.
“We’re both good defensive teams, so it’s hard to shoot when they’re right up on you like that,” East Mills guard Logan Currin said.
In the meantime, both forwards Keegan Wederquist and Noah Meyer encountered foul trouble.
“Coach keeps telling me to play straight up, don’t swat anything, don’t reach for anything, just try to listen to what he had to say,” Wederquist said.
Both played with four fouls for much of the fourth quarter.
“He had some silly fouls,” Schafer said about Wederquistm his team’s top scorer, rebounder and shot blockers. “I think they were frustrated. I think he missed a shot he thought he should make and reached in. Nobody thinks that they foul, but for foul trouble, we have to make better decisions as far as reaching in, trying to block shots, things like that.”
The first points of the fourth quarter came from guard Jacob Schafer with 3:26 left, thanks to a jumper inside the paint. East Mills lead was 32-24 with three minutes to go.
The Cowboys fought to get closer, but missed their opportunities in the final minutes, including a wide-open lane lay-up with four minutes to go.
“We just wanted to stay patient on offense and get good shots and then play good defense, not let them get any second chances or anything like that,” Currin said.
Both teams made their free throw during the final minutes as the Cowboys were able to trim the lead to 33-25 with 1:59 left.
Currin was able to get a steal and drive the length of the court for a basket opportunity for the Wolverines, but the junior guard was fouled and missed the front end of the one-and-one. Sidney got the ball back and converted a Chris Osborn lay-up with 1:15 left in the game to cut the Wolverines lead to 33-27.
Following a timeout, Michael Story was fouled and missed the front end of a one-and-one with more than a minute left giving Sidney the ball with a chance to further cut into he East Mills lead.
But the Cowboys missed their next shot and East Mills grabbed the rebound and got the ball to Wederquist, who was fouled with 32.3 seconds left.
Wederquist sank both free throws to give East Mills the 35-27 lead as they were 32 seconds away from winning it all.
Sidney quickly drove down court, but missed another shot and Wederquist was fouled again with 20.2 seconds left.
In the double bonus by that point, Wederquist missed both free throws as East Mills focused on setting up defense for the final seconds.
Sidney missed their final opportunity as East Mills walked away with the win. No team who has won the Corner Conference tournament since 1959 has ever won by scoring less than 40 points.
“Both teams offensively did not play very well,” Schafer said. “I joked to [Sidney Coach] Kent [Larsen] after the game that we’re going to have to put peach baskets up.”
The scoring struggles started in the first half as East Mills jumped out to an 11-5 lead in the first quarter. It continued during the second quarter, but East Mills didn’t let the Cowboys take the lead, going into halftime with a 17-13 lead.
Sidney crept closer early in the third quarter, tying the game 18-18 with 6:37 remaining. However, the Wolverines went on a 12-2 scoring run for the remainder of the quarter to take a 30-20 lead.
East Mills was able to pass the ball inside and get it in the middle of the Sidney Box and One defense.
“We started to get the ball in the middle of the box and one and got it into Wederquist and Meyer inside and that made a difference,” Schafer said. We were struggling from the perimeter, so that was good that we got the ball inside.
Jacob Schafer finished the game as the leading scorer, recording 10 points for East Mills.
East Mills 67,
The East Mills boys basketball team reached the semifinals of the Corner Conference tournament with a 67-44 victory over Essex last Tuesday.
Essex bounced out to an early lead in the first quarter, before East Mills went on a 7-0 run to take an 11-6 lead with 2:39 remaining. East Mills maintained the lead to 14-8 at the end of the first quarter and expanded it further during the second.
The Wolverines defense allowed just four points in the second quarter as they went into halftime with a commanding 30-12 lead.
East Mills extended its lead to as many as 28 in the third quarter.
Keegan Wederquist had a big game for the Wolverines, pouring in 19 points on 6-for-8 shooting and 7-for-9 shooting at the free throw line. Wederquist also had four blocks and was a rebound shy of a double-double.
Noah Meyer stepped in off the bench and finished with a double-double, scoring 17 points on 8-for-12 shooting and grabbing 10 rebounds.
Logan Currin chipped in 10 points, while Jacob Schafer scored eight and Michael Story finished with seven.