LECANTO — This time, Seven Rivers Christian knew how to handle a close game down the stretch.
The Warriors weren’t able to execute properly in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s 59-58 loss to Bell Creek Academy. But on Thursday night, they responded when they fell behind and pulled away for a 60-53 triumph over visiting Redeemer Christian, a fellow District 2A-2 squad.
“It’s one we needed, especially right after Tuesday when we were in the exact same position. Up three with a minute and a half left on Tuesday, we lost in the final seconds,” Seven Rivers head coach Morgan McLeod said. “I think Tuesday really helped us pull out tonight’s win. It was a true learning experience for the young guys. They were able to step up and make some free throws at the end and not rush. So I enjoyed this win after Tuesday night’s loss.”
It was a tight game throughout, but the Warriors (2-3) went on a 7-0 run midway through the third quarter and led 31-23 on a 3-point play by C.J. Phillips at 4:44 in the period.
The Ocala-based Lions (5-2) tied it up at 41 on Eli Modders’ putback early in the fourth, and took a 45-44 advantage with 5:29 to play on a fast-break layup by Craigee Breach.
Seven Rivers doubled up Redeemer the rest of the way, 16-8, knocking down three 3-pointers in the quarter and going 6 of 11 from the foul line.
“We’re probably going to live and die by the 3 all year,” McLeod said. “If we’re not hitting 3s, it’ll be a tough night. We started out cold but our defense helped us this evening.”
For the game the Warriors hit on seven 3-point attempts, led by J.T. Tipton who made five. The seventh-grade guard had two of them in the fourth quarter, and finished with a team-high 17 points, to go along with four rebounds and two steals.
“I just felt like I had the touch, help from teammates, great passes. Everything was going right tonight,” Tipton said. “It’s (3-point shooting) big. I love playing basketball that way. I’ve played basketball like that my whole entire life.
“It boosts our confidence going into tomorrow’s game, going into next week’s games, stuff like that.”
Sophomores Caleb and Haddon Sullivan, averaging 18 and 14.8 points respectively through the first four games, each had 16 points and four rebounds in this one. Haddon Sullivan also had three steals. Jordan Kusnierz added six points and six rebounds, while Phillips had five points and 10 boards.
Andrew Powers led the Lions with 17 points and nine rebounds, and Modders had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Grant Phillips chipped in with seven points and 14 rebounds.
For the Warriors, it was redemption for a season-opening 68-55 loss at Redeemer on Dec. 1 and helped get them on track following a lengthy layoff. Prior to Tuesday’s contest, Seven Rivers hadn’t played since Dec. 4 due to numerous cancellations and the holiday break.
“I think there’s only one game we weren’t in late. So overall, I’m enjoying this season,” McLeod said. “For these guys to have a month off and then their first two games are nail-biters down the stretch; I’ve enjoyed this (season) more than I have the last two so far just ’cause the group of guys I have are just fantastic.
“Success for us is to improve on last year. We were 6-14. So right now we’re already ahead of last year. But true success is probably to make it to a district final is our goal. We just beat a really good team in our district, they’re probably the second- or third-best team in the district and we just beat them on our home floor. So that helps a lot. Our goal is definitely postseason stuff if we can get there.”