UNION TWP. | If you want to win the Class 2A Wheeler Sectional, you have to break a full-court press.
That was the message sent loudly and clearly Tuesday by two teams on a collision course for Saturday’s championship.
Bowman Academy was a little late to take the floor for warm-ups and took about a quarter to overcome a flat start. Then the Eagles pressured River Forest into nine second-quarter turnovers en route to a dominant 80-51 win in the opener.
In the nightcap, the host Bearcats made a valiant effort to come back from a press-inflicted 14-2 deficit after one but never took the lead and watched Bishop Noll win 48-40.
Larry Crisler paced the Warriors with 19 points, and Tyreon Gates had 12. However, freshman guard Martin Schiele had several clutch baskets to halt Wheeler’s third-quarter momentum.
The Bearcats (13-8) began the second half on an 8-0 run and pulled within a point twice. Both times Schiele made an acrobatic basket to quell the momentum. Throughout the fourth, Noll hung on just enough to keep Wheeler down and resist all last-ditch attempts.
Noll (18-4) advances to face Whiting in Friday’s nightcap. Bowman will play Lake Station in an all-Eagles affair in Friday’s first semifinal.
Bowman’s second unit gave the first a rest as the Eagles (12-9) extended a 17-11 first-quarter lead to a 39-21 halftime edge.
“Our practices are basically us running to get each other in shape,” Bowman junior forward Justin King said. “We just played defense hard as a unit. We were swinging the ball to make them work harder on offense and played real well as a team.”
All but one player scored for Bowman, led by King’s 18 points, and the lone scoreless player, Darrion Riddle, had six rebounds, five assists and three of Bowman’s 16 steals in the game.
King, Riddle and Anthony Cole, who had 12 points, tied for rebounding honors, but Bowman outrebounded the Ingots 44-21 with a distinct size advantage.
“It was awkward,” the 6-foot-7 King said. “We had a big advantage, and that’s not our fault.”
King had four fouls in the first half and did not play in the third.
He had nine points in the fourth quarter, equaling his first-half total. Arthur Haggard snapped a recent slump and hit four 3-pointers and scored 16 for the Eagles.
“Guys are still young and a lot of them are playing (a sectional game) for the first time,” Bowman coach Marvin Rea said. “In the second quarter, we decided to turn it up once we had a feel for the court, the game and the atmosphere.”
River Forest (7-14) got 19 points from junior Brandon Laas, and 6-4 senior Justin Pennington had 11 points, seven rebounds and four blocks in his final prep contest.
With teams coming from three cities in Lake County, Wheeler officials monitored the weather closely during the day as closings around the area began to accumulate as the snow did likewise.
Around 1 p.m. Tuesday Wheeler athletic director Randy Stelter hopped in his car and drove around to get a first-hand feel for the neighboring roads.
“Based on what we saw with the radar and coming in on the roads, we thought we were fine,” Stelter said.