By Jeff Jones
BERNE — Churubusco twice saw big leads dissipate in Tuesday’s Class 2A sectional game with Eastside at South Adams.
The Eagles never lost the lead, however, and held off the Blazers 38-34. Eastside’s season ends at 10-13.
The Eagles led 16-6 after a quarter. The Blazers fought back to even the score in the second. In the third, Churubusco pulled away by nine. Eastside fought back to cut it two with three minutes to go in regulation, but could never take the lead.
Churubusco coach Chris Paul and Eastside coach Ryan Abbott both felt that was a key to the game.
“When you’ve got to play a team on Friday in your conference and you have to turn around and play them on Tuesday, I knew it was going to be like this,” Paul said. “They know all of our stuff, we know all of their stuff. You’ve just got to find a way to win.
“We did what we needed to do early,” he continued. “We talked about getting a fast start, and we got a fast start. Unfortunately, we went through a second quarter where we couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean, and Eastside did a nice job of making some adjustments.
“At least we had the lead, and mentally, that’s important,” Paul added. “We stretched it out and all of a sudden, it came back again.”
“That’s all we talked about, getting the lead,” Abbott said. “I thought if we could get the lead, we had them.
“What a great job by my team tonight,” he said. “We held them to 38 points, they average close to 60, and I felt like that was in our control.
“We dug a really big hole early, but boy, we came right back,” Abbott said. “We couldn’t get the ball to go down, and we got every shot we wanted. We got to the rim, we got great-looking threes, and we got great free throw shooters going to the line.”
Freshman Jackson Paul led all scorers with 11 points. Another freshman, Zane Burke, added seven for the Eagles.
Seniors Caleb Ballentine and Aaron Dean had 10 points each for the Blazers, and classmate Andrew Steffen added eight.
Paul scored seven of his team’s first-quarter points, and junior Mason Garland, making his first varsity appearance of the season, hit a three late for a 16-4 lead. Steffen answered with a rebound bucket for Eastside before the quarter ended.
The teams exchanged misses and turnovers through the first half of the second.
Alex Yoder connected in the lane, Ballentine added a free throw, and Yoder stole the ball and scored for Eastside. After a Busco miss, Ballentine hit a three from the right corner, and later added two free throws to tie it at 16 with 2:18 left in the half.
Churubusco’s Brayton Bonar had a rebound score, and Paul’s three-point play extended the lead to five before Chase Franz scored in transition for Eastside before the half ended.
A jumper in the lane by sophomore Gage Kelly gave the Eagles a 31-22 lead with three minutes left in the third, but Dean hit a three for Eastside before the quarter ended.
In the fourth, Dean ran off seven of Eastside’s next nine points, including a three from the key with 3:10 to play, cutting the deficit to 36-34.
Churubusco turned the ball over on its next possession, and the Blazers got three excellent looks in the paint but couldn’t get the equalizer to fall. Burke and Luke McClure each hit single free throws to provide the final margin.
“I told the guys we’ve been in so many close games like this,” Paul said. “We got a couple of stops when we needed to, and we got some free throws when we needed to.”
“I wish that ball could have went down a little bit more,” Abbott said. “Things aren’t against us. We do things the right way. I’m proud of how we conducted ourselves through the adversity of this game and Friday’s game.”
The Eagles were 14-of-38 (37 percent), but made just seven field goals after the first quarter. The Blazers were 14-of-41 (34 percent) for the contest.