When it comes to games of do or die, why not rely on the guys who have experience in the program? Eastside did just that during Tuesday night’s Sectional opener in Class 2A as their two seniors, Alex Yoder and Chase Franz, scrapped their way to leading Eastside in a 54-48 win over Canterbury.
Yoder led all scorers with 20 points and Franz had 17 points and seven rebounds in the win.
Canterbury jumped out to a 9-0 lead early, finding their stride shooting the ball including Noah Drapala hitting a three pointer just over a minute into the game against Eastside’s 1-2-2 zone. Holidey Stephenson’s basket at the 4:44 mark put the Cavaliers up by nine.
The Cavaliers were playing without without two of its top scorers in Noah Wolfe and Will Shank. The pair ranked first and second in minutes per game and third and first in points per game respectively coming into Sectionals. Junior Arnad Samardzic also did not play; sources say the three violated undisclosed team rules after the regular season finale.
“Those guys practice every day and human nature tells you that when you get an opportunity, you go do it,” Eastside coach Ryan Abbott said. “It is no secret. I thought they kind of thrived in the situation. You can either pout about it or I thought Canterbury did an excellent job of embracing the situation.”
Eastside wouldn’t score their first points until 3:59 on a pair of free throws from Franz. Yet, by the time that there was 1:15 left in the first quarter, they trailed just 11-10 on a Franz three pointer.
Yoder buried a runner up the lane with 6.2 seconds left in the first to put Eastside up 12-11 at the first break.
“I was a little disappointed we left Drapala early. It is about as good a layup if he can step into it. I was proud of the way we responded. Offensively, when we stopped living with every shot and we just started playing basketball and weren’t playing so tight, it is good,” Abbott said.
Eastside was happy to work through the first game jitters early, starting a freshman and bringing a sophomore off the bench.
The two teams traded baskets early in the second quarter, but when Phoenix Smyth buried a three pointer with 6:08 left that bounced around the rim before falling, Eastside would take the lead for good, 17-14. Smyth would extend the lead to 20-16 two and a half minutes later on his second straight three. Franz would add another triple for the Blazers with 2:57 left and neither team would score again in the opening half as the Blazers led 23-16 at halftime.
“We say ‘gritty not pretty’ is our motto. We haven’t won man games pretty so we embrace the moment and we have to do little things to be really good,” Abbott said.
Midway through the third quarter, Canterbury capped a run with a Keenan Baldus three pointer that cut Eastside’s lead to two, but Yoder answered back, as Eastside often did on the night, with a three pointer of his own. Canterbury’s momentum was gone for good on that drive with 1:59 left in the quarter when Franz chased down a breaking Drapala, blocking his shot and leading to a three pointer from Noah Johnson.
Eastside led 37-31 after three.
Canterbury got the chance to go to the free throw line often in the fourth quarter with Eastside already in the bonus with 6:06 left. It was at that point that Drapala drew the Cavaliers back within two points again at 39-37. Franz, Baldus and Smyth exchanged baskets for the two teams and then Canterbury looked like they found momentum. At the 4:42 mark of the fourth, Stephenson ripped the ball from Smyth’s hands after a rebound and put it in right under the basket to again cut the Canterbury deficit to two points. But on the next trip, it was Yoder stepping into a three pointer from about four feet behind the line that rallied Eastside one more time.
Eastside hit nine three pointers in the game including four from Franz.
“They are so good. If you came out, you wouldn’t pick out those guys,” Abbott said of his two seniors. “Alex is skilled with the basketball, 5-10 maybe on a good day but boy he is tough as nails. Chase Franz is communicating. He is so huge for us and he is just a fighter. They embrace their roles and they are all-stars in their roles with our team. Their selflessness is huge. They don’t care if they score it, if they rebound it, they just want to come out ahead on the scoreboard.”
Stephenson was able to rip the ball away from Johnson with 1:38 left to take off with a fastbreak score and to make it a six point game at 50-44. From there, Yoder sliced through the Canterbury press on a couple of situations and Eastside was able to hit free throws down the stretch and also run about 50 seconds of the final minute off the clock with good ball movement and Canterbury not fouling.
Baldus led Canterbury with 12 points and Drapala added 11 points while Stephenson scored 10. Canterbury also got eight points from Jaylen Williams, all in the fourth quarter, while Smyth scored eight points for Eastside.
The Blazers will now play Adams Central on Friday night in the 6 p.m. semi final at Eastside.