RENSSELAER | Hanover Central has a chance to win a sectional championship in its first year in Class 3A after holding on to beat Knox 44-39 in the second game of the Rensselaer Sectional Friday night.
To do so, the Wildcats (12-8) will have to be just the second team in the class to beat Andrean (19-2), which topped host Rensselaer 63-40.
"I don't want my team to feel intimidated because they're Andrean," said senior guard Nick Bollenbacher, who finished with 18 points. "That's what March Madness is all about. Everybody has got a chance."
After leading 30-20 early in the second half, Knox pulled to within 36-34 at the end of three quarters.
Jeremy Pedersoli hit a 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 47 seconds left for a 39-34 lead, and Hanover held the ball the rest of way, connecting on 5-of-8 free throws down the stretch.
"They took care of the lead and took over," Hanover coach Rod Bollenbacher said.
In the opener, Andrean's Josh James found himself in foul trouble in the second and third quarters, so his teammates stepped up in his absence on both ends.
"Our defense in the second half was key," Andrean coach Carson Cunningham said. "I think they only scored seven points in the first 12 or 13 minutes of the half."
The Niners methodically pulled away in the third quarter, stretching the advantage to 46-32 with eight minutes left.
"They came out more focused and executed their rotations better, and that was nice to see," Cunningham said.
"We got some stops on defense and turned them into buckets," said James, who finished with 10 points. "We got on a roll."
James picked up his third foul with 5:15 left in the third, leading Nick Davidson and Daniel Keilman to combine for seven points. The Niners pulled away in the fourth, opening with a 9-0 run.
"They're so relentless with their trapping, they're going to wear you down, and they wore us down," Rensselaer coach Kevin Sims said.
The Bombers tried to stay close and got within 25-21 midway through the second quarter on a three-point play by Tanner Odle, who scored a game-high 17 points. A putback by Skyler Moss at the halftime horn gave the Niners a 35-26 lead.
"Give Rensselaer credit, no one gives you the sectional," Cunningham said. "They came out and hit some big shots."
Davidson led Andrean with 15 points.
"Fortunately, we rose to the occasion after the first few minutes," Cunningham said.