By Lenny Sementi
Tuscola’s boys basketball team entered the holiday break unbeaten at 7-0 and then shook off some early rust after Christmas running their record to 10-0 on the year going 3-0 in pool play the first two days of the Monticello Holiday Hoopla. Coach Justin Bozarth’s squad fell behind early in their tourney opener verse last years state runner-up Gibson City but the deficit was short lived as his boys in black charged in front and never looked back earning their spot in the championship game. The third year bench boss leaned on his starters Ben Dixon, Jacob Kibler, Cole Cunningham, Grant Hardwick and Jalen Quinn who accounted for all but seven of the Warriors one hundred and eighty three points tallied in pool play.
The boys in black were down 17-8 early in the second quarter against GCMS despite a pair of first quarter threes from super soph Jalen Quinn. The shifty guard added a game-high twenty-six points to his season stat line in the game and averaged nineteen points a contest in the three game swing scoring fifty-six points total in pool play. He fell just short of a double-double against the Falcons grabbing a game-high nine rebounds in the 56-52 come from behind victory. Jacob Kibler reached the double-digit scoring plateau also scoring eleven of his fouty pool-play points in the skirmish all of which came after the break as the Warriors secured win number eight on the year. Ben Dixon hit a pair of runners in the game and was solid on the boards securing eight rebounds while Cole Cunningham accounted for eight points including two threes and seven rebounds, three on the offensive end.
‘We came out a little flat vs GCMS in the 10 a.m. game but were able to amp up our defensive pressure in the second half to take and maintain the lead,” stated the coach.
Cunningham stepped it up in the night cap of day one against Oakwood posting a game, career and tourney-high twenty-nine points in the dominating 63-40 victory over the Bulldogs. The junior sharp shooter hit his first five threes of the game and seven total on eleven of eighteen effort from the field scoring a second best fourty-five points in pool games. He also led the way on the boards in game two collecting six rebounds helping the Warriors ran out to a seven point lead after one frame and a sixteen point lead at the break. Kilber was next up in the scoring column with fourteen points on a perfect six for six effort from the field and a two for two outing at the charity stripe. Quinn was in double-digits also ending his night with ten points while dishing out a game-high seven assists.
“Cole really led the scoring charge in the Oakwood game,” Bozarth stated. “You don’t often see a high school kid catch fire like he did. It was fun to watch give great credit to our guys for understanding who the hot hand was and continuing to feed him. In those first two games, we saw a box and one back to back in an attempt to stop Jalen opening up opportuneties for others like Cole. One of the things we felt good about was the fact that we saw it twice, and it took a bit to get comfortable in our stuff against it in the GCMS game, but then looked leaned and really look good against it in the next game verse Oakwood. We will see defenses like that from time to time moving forward so it was good to get that experience.”
Grant Hardwick joined the party outside the arc in the 64-48 win over the Sages hitting three treys in contest. Bozarth’s bunch slammed the door on Monticello’s offense giving up just fourteen points on six field goals in the first half and did their damage on offense from down town in the first sixteen minutes of action. Cunningham and Hardwick each hit a pair of threes and Quinn added one, as did Donovan Chester off the bench giving Tuscola seven threes total in the first two periods. The Warriors ended the suspense at the line sinking ten of twelve in the fourth as the Sages fouled early in attempt to slow down the game.
“The Monticello win was a big for us that isn’t getting talked about too much because of our championship win the next night,” commented the coach. But we played really well for a good majority of that game. We know the the 2005-2006 group beat them in a regional championship and couldn’t think of too many times it’s happened if at all since then.”
Tuscola in all averaged eight treys a game making twenty-four total earning them a spot in the championship game against Paxton Buckley Loda and won the rebound battle in all three games by at least five boards. The Panthers also went 3-0 in pool play upsetting state ranked Ridgeview on the second day.