Eagles grind way into district finals
Defense locks down Clever in 54-45 semifinal win
The season will be on the line tonight (Saturday) as the Pierce City boys hoops team plays Mt. Vernon at 5 p.m. for the Class 3, District 12 championship in Aurora.
The Eagles punched their ticket after avenging a 53-41 loss to Clever on Jan. 16 with a 54-45 win on Thursday.
“I think we are a different team from when we played them the first time,” said Matt Street, Pierce City coach. “For one thing, we had Kyle Renkoski back tonight. We also guarded much better. Our identity this season has been our defense, and that paid off.”
The game entered the fourth quarter tied 39-39.
After relying on zone defensive pressure for most of the game, Pierce City switched up and went to a man-to-man pressure, and the extra effort paid dividends.
The Bluejays took a brief 41-39 lead, but the Eagles responded with a 5-0 spurt with a pair of Colten O’Hara free throws and an Aaron Garner 3-pointer.
Over the last 4:49 of the game, Clever managed just 4 points and Pierce City rolled off 9 more.
“We never quit, and outside of a slow start, we play well for over three-and-a-half quarters,” Street said. “I thought we pressured the ball well and attacked the glass.”
Clever opened the game with a 6-0 run, prompting a timeout by Street to settle his troops. O’Hara then scored the next 7 points to help the Eagles take a 7-6 edge, and the game was on.
Pierce City took a 29-28 edge into the intermission.
Renkoski finished with a team-high 19. He practically owned the third quarter, scoring 8 points in the frame and twice stealing inbound passes that led to quick transition points.
“I felt that he settled into the game well, especially in the third quarter,” Street said. “We never panicked, and I am proud of the way we finished.”
O’Hara finished with 11 points and Garner recorded 10. Jackson Kleiboeker added 6 points, with Trenton Kluck and Trey Sagehorn chipping in 4 apiece.
The Eagles play Mt. Vernon in the championship game.
“They are a tough team,” Street said. “They defend extremely hard and have some guys that shoot the ball well. We are going to need to be perfect.”
Tipoff is set for tonight (Saturday) at 5 p.m.