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 Thursday, July 24, the 205th day of 2014. There are 160 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: The Rev. R.J. Humphrey, once a clergyman in this city, was reported killed in a quarrel in New Orleans. 1889 -- 125 years ago: The Rock Island Citizens Improvement Association held a special meeting to consider the proposition of consolidating Rock Island and Moline. 1914 -- 100 years ago: The home of A. Freeman, 806 3rd Ave., was entered by a burglar while a circus parade was in progress and about $100 worth of jewelry and $5 in cash were taken. 1939 -- 75 years ago: The million dollar dredge, Rock Island, of the Rock Island district of United States engineers will be in this area this week to deepen the channel at the site of the new Rock Island-Davenport bridge. 1964 -- 50 years ago: The Argus "walked" to a 13-0 victory over American Container Corporation last night to clinch the championship of Rock Island's A Softball League at Northwest Douglas Park. 1989 -- 25 years ago: The Immediate Care Center emergency medical office at South Park Mall is moving back to United Medical Center on Sept. 1. After nearly six years in operation at the mall, Care Center employees are upset by UMC's decision. The center is used by 700 to 800 people each month.