FULTON – It's been a bumpy road for the Prophetstown boys' basketball team after a 9-3 start and a first-place finish at the ROWVA/Ridgewood Tournament a month ago.|
Entering their Saturday matchup with Stockton to open a four-game slate at the fifth annual Eric Ottens Memorial Shootout, the Prophets had split their last four games following a seven-game losing streak that had put them under the .500 mark.
With senior forward Zach Inskeep closing strong, scoring six of his game-high 14 points in the fourth quarter, Prophetstown bounced back from a tough Friday loss at Three Rivers Conference rival Sterling Newman with a 53-46 victory over the Blackhawks.
"We always have that in the back of our head; it's become a common theme for us,'' said Inskeep (14 points, 10 rebounds) of the 12-12 Prophets' recent penchant for seeing leads and potential wins vanish in the second half. "We had to pull together and break the habit. Losing to Newman was a big eye-opener.''
Prophetstown's TRAC-9 rival Erie had a double dose of adversity to rally from Saturday – a three-point loss the night before at Riverdale, and the loss of senior guard and top scorer Jacob Johnston to a back injury suffered against the Rams.
Taking on Mississippi Athletic Conference member Clinton, which sported warm-up shirts with Ottens' name and No. 31 on the back in tribute, the Cardinals gave it their best shot and then some. However, an 11-point lead built by the River Kings after three quarters held up as they scored a 44-35 victory.
"That was an incredible effort; one of the best that we've given all year,'' said Erie coach Ryan Winckler, whose club slips to 15-11. "We had guys who have barely played this year step up; (junior guard) Koby Kuhnen, who hardly gets any minutes, played the whole fourth quarter, and (junior center) Brandon Heppner gets five points off the bench.
"Facing adversity, there's two ways you can deal with it. Either pout about it, or give your best effort. I cannot be more proud of my basketball team.''
In Saturday's nightcap at Stan Borgman Court, the host Fulton Steamers were blitzed from the outset by a hot-shooting Preston team. The Trojans scored the game's first 16 points and never looked back as they cruised to an 87-42 victory.
"We could never get into an offensive rhythm,'' said Fulton coach Rick Norman, whose club is 5-18, "and that hurt us.''
Prophetstown 53, Stockton 46: Playing for the third day in a row – and their fourth game in the last five days – the Prophets showed some fatigue at times. For example, they hit just two of eight free throws in the first three quarters before draining four of six in the final period to help ice the win.
"We were fighting through it,'' said Inskeep. "We were tired, and it showed in our free throws coming up short at times, but we just had to focus and stay mentally strong.''
The Prophets showed that mental toughness down the stretch. Up 39-33 entering the fourth quarter, they saw that six-point lead halved when the Blackhawks' Sam VenHuizen knocked down a 3-pointer in the opening minute of the period. Key buckets by Inskeep fueled a subsequent 10-3 run that put Prophetstown up 49-39.
Stockton (12-8), though, refused to go away. Trey Timpe banged home a trey with just under a minute to play, and a steal and bucket by teammate Trent Schubert (13 points, 10 rebounds) made it a 49-44 game with just over 40 seconds remaining.
"We haven't been finishing off games, so we needed to do this,'' said Prophetstown coach Cordell Juhola. "We've had 19 games out of 24 where we've led going into halftime, and another one where we were tied. We had to work, to be tough and finish, and we did.''
With Inskeep's double-double augmented by nine-point outings from Carter Ames and Ethan Howard and Devin Johnson's eight points and four steals, the Prophets made sure they closed the deal this time after leading 18-10 after one quarter, 28-22 at halftime and 34-24 at one point in the third quarter.
Clinton 48, Erie 37: Sparked by first-quarter 3-pointers from Connor Saad, Jordan Chandler and Rhett Stover, the Cardinals worked their way to a 16-13 lead late in the first period before the River Kings (5-10) scored the final six points to go up 19-16.
That's when Heppner stepped up, opening the second period with a bucket and then a trey to give Erie a 21-19 edge. However, that was the last lead the Redbirds enjoyed as Clinton went on a 10-0 run to take a 29-21 halftime lead and take control of the game.
Saad finished with 16 points, with Chandler adding eight points, five rebounds and two steals. Brady Ernst led Clinton with 17 points and 12 boards.
Preston 87, Fulton 42: The Most Valuable Player award given by the Preston boys' cagers is named in honor of Ottens, and on Saturday, senior guard Colton Bormann played like an MVP.
Bormann knocked down eight 3-pointers and led all scorers with 34 points in addition to snaring seven rebounds. Chase Zaruba added 18 points, with Logan Wilhelm chipping in with 14 points and eight boards for the Trojans.
Fulton fell behind 24-2 after its slow start, and things didn't get any better as the Steamers trailed 43-8 at halftime. T.J. Huizenga led the hosts with nine points.
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