ORION — Come next year, Rockridge and Orion will forge a new rivalry with Kewanee when the three are grouped together in the Three Rivers Conference's South Division.|
But on opening night Monday at the Orion Tip-Off Classic boys' basketball tournament, the three teams tried to find more common ground in their first action of the year.
After Kewanee got a combined 45 points from senior guards Dayton Ince and Matt Gustafson in its 75-54 win over another future Three Rivers South rival, Sherrard, Rockridge committed no turnovers in its first quarter of the season but forced Erie into 23 miscues in a 60-31 victory over the Cardinals.
"We did get after it defensively; we got in the lanes and forced turnovers," said Rockridge coach Toby Whiteman, who got six steals apiece from Ethan Happ and T.J. Henry. "I think this game was in line with what we expected. It doesn't matter who you play the first game, there'll always be first-game jitters and adjustments to make."
But in the nightcap of Monday's triple bill, the host Orion Chargers found an 11-point deficit after the first quarter a little too much to overcome against Knoxville. Despite a game fourth-period rally led by senior guard Dylan Schultz, Orion suffered a rare opening-night loss, 43-35.
"This is kind of unfamiliar territory for us," said Orion coach Brent Hutton. "Knoxville came out and played very well and took advantage of things we weren't ready for."
Kewanee 75, Sherrard 54:Besides finishing with a game-high 27 points, Ince also helped the Boilermakers to secure their first victory of the new year down the stretch by hitting eight of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter. For the game, Ince hit 10 of 13 freebies to go with three 3-pointers.
"They're our seniors and our captains," Kewanee coach Steve Salisbury said of both Ince and Gustafson, who had 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting. "Dayton was our top scorer last year, and we hoped he'd come out like that; and Matt's been working hard on his game in practice."
Freshman Donovan Oliver scored half of his 12 points in the first half as Kewanee built a 46-26 lead.
Led by the duo of Jake Coyne (16 points) and Jake Kissner (10 points), Sherrard did step up its play as the game went on, but that rough start made the difference. "We did a much better job of shutting them down in the second half," said Tiger coach Barry Jackson, "but you can't give up 46 points in the first half."
Rockridge 60, Erie 31: Besides his six steals, Happ also came up with a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds to inaugurate his junior season. Henry also hit double figures for the Rockets, hitting his first five shots and tallying 10 points. Nyle Stevens and Bryan Heath added nine and eight points, respectively.
"We came out and shot the ball well," said Whiteman. "The first game of the year, if you shoot well from the outside, that gives you a confidence about the whole game."
Erie couldn't find its rhythm as it fell behind 23-8 after one. By halftime, the Cardinals were down 40-19.
"We knew Rockridge is one of the best teams in the area, and we knew we had to take care of the ball," said Erie coach Ryan Winckler, who got nine points from Connor Saad. "Too many turnovers and getting in foul trouble limited what we could do."
Knoxville 43, Orion 35: Led by Tyler Houston's 11 points, the Blue Bullets made a quick statement against the tournament hosts by grabbing a 15-4 lead after the first quarter. Orion did whittle the deficit down to 23-16 by halftime, but soon found itself back down by 11 points early in the third quarter.
With Schultz popping for a game-high 14 points, the Chargers kept trying to get over the hump, closing the gap to seven late in the third before Knoxville took a 31-21 lead into the final quarter. Orion then made several attempts at a rally, closing to within six points on a Clay VanderHeiden putback midway through the fourth.
"We can't dig a hole like we did," said Hutton. "We don't have a lot of experience on this team so we've got to stay together and keep working to make ourselves better."