ERIE -- Despite being just 7-5 entering the 11th annual Cliff Warkins Memorial Cardinal Classic, the Orion Chargers still felt they were the team to beat.
Friday night, the five-time defending Warkins boys' basketball champions moved to within one victory of making it seven titles in the last eight seasons as they beat Erie 50-32 to book a spot in today's 7:30 p.m. championship game against Bureau Valley.
"We wanted to keep building and taking steps forward, and we've done that playing some good opposition,'' said Orion coach Brent Hutton, whose 11-5 club has won five straight games. "We're starting to click; we're committed to the defensive end of things, and that's given us the chance to compete for the title.''
Up 17-11 at halftime, the Chargers started to hit their stride in the second half as senior standout Dylan Schultz scored 11 of his game-high 18 points in the final 16 minutes. Schultz and Jason Marshall each had a pair of fourth-quarter buckets to help spark a game-closing 11-2 run. Adam Killion added 10 points for Orion. Jacob Johnston led Erie (10-7) with 14 points.
"Coming in here having won the last five (titles), that's the expectations of the Orion program, and we've got to continue that tradition,'' said Schultz. "The entire team has really stepped up and taken some huge strides through the tourney. We've really come together, and we're learning to play better basketball.''
The Bureau Valley Storm (11-7) had already loggedwins over the other contenders in their pool -- Wethersfield and Knoxville -- andwere already assured of a spot in the title game prior to their Friday matchup with Three Rivers Conference rival Riverdale.That made the Storm's 53-41 loss to the Rams a little easier to take.
For Riverdale (7-7), it was a much-needed boost after three straight pool-play losses, including a 67-64 setback to West Carroll earlier Friday afternoon.
"BV is as hot as anyone right now, so to get this win is great after going 1-6 in our last seven games,'' said Riverdale coach Jason Hendrix, who got 16 points from Drew Beale and 12 from Mitchell Sand to take up the slack as BV held Ram senior standout Jared Richmond to just four points.
Mercer County (7-5) knew what it had to do to keep its finals' hopes alive, and one of them involved continuing its stellar defensive work. The Golden Eagles delivered just that in a 48-24 win over Morrison, but Orion's victory relegated them to a fifth-place matchup with Riverdale today at 4:30 p.m.
"I've been as pleased with our defense the last two weeks as with any basketball team I've had,'' said Eagles' coach Brian Hutton. "Two weeks ago, we were talking about what our identity was going to be, and now, we've established ourselves as a good defensive team. Now we just need to keep it up and get on a roll.''
While the defense was clamping down on the Mustangs (4-13), Tyson Nylin led a balanced Golden Eagle offense with 14 points, including four 3-pointers. Tanner Matlick added 10 points. Hunter Hamstra led Morrison with 13 points.
A pre-tourney title favorite, Wethersfield (11-2) instead will have to try for bronze after rallying from seven points down in the final three minutes to beat Knoxville 65-61. Trevor Lay's team-best 15 points were augmented by 14 points each from Matt Jenkins and Kegan Jacobson. The Flying Geese will face Stockton, a 42-39 winner over Stark County.
"The guys showed a lot of poise,'' said Wethersfield coach Jeff Parsons. "We went on lockdown defensively, and hit some key shots. Obviously our goal was to get to the finals, but we didn't do it. We are playing for a trophy, which is what you want to do at Christmas. If we can come out of here 4-1, we'll consider that successful.''
Today is Wednesday, March 12, the 71st day of 2014. There are 294 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: Soldiers from the barracks on the Arsenal manage to elude the vigilance of the guard nearly every day and come to town armed. In the hands of excited and perhaps intoxicated men, these weapons are dangerous. 1889 -- 125 years ago: Manufacturing's merchants and professional men of Moline were petitioning the Western Union Telegraph company to establish a telegraph office in the business area of the city. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Three Rock Island students, the Misses Eleanor Cleaveland, Dorothy McCabe and Ruth West, escaped injury when fire destroyed College Hall at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. 1939 -- 75 years ago: The Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War gave a party for William H. Stremmel, the only survivor of John Buford Post 243, GAR. 1964 -- 50 years ago: The East Moline Grade School Board of Education last night granted salary increases totaling about $47,000 to teachers and staff members. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Five champion spellers from the Rock Island/Milan School district were selected after competition this week at Modern Woodmen of America. Winners are Sarah Cottay, Christopher Gilbrich, Jared Vogele, Kedric Roper and Kenny Stevenson.