SERENA — Before Tuesday evening's Serena Class 1A Regional quarterfinal matchup between No. 10-seeded Leland-Earlville and No. 3 seed Westminster Christian, Panthers coach Gerald Fruit advised his troops that it would be extremely important to limit turnovers against a very skilled and disciplined Warrior squad.
Unfortunately, the L-E boys were unable to fulfill their coaches wishes, turning the ball over 29 times throughout the contest. The locals didn't shoot the ball very well either, connecting on only 16 of 49 (33 percent) from the field and a mere 1 of 9 from 3-point range.
In the end, that was enough to end the season for L-E after a lopsided 64-38 loss to WC here on Al Stegman Court at Serena High School.
The Panthers (12-16) received a team-best eight points from senior Logan Stralka as well as six tallies and a club-leading nine rebounds off the hands of junior center Tyler Bretsch. Senior Marcus Aviles and sophomore Michael Sansone each added five markers, but L-E turned the ball over early and often with 17 miscues during the first two quarters as WC bolted out to a 17-point lead at halftime and never looked back.
"I told the team before the game that we really needed to win the turnover battle against a good team like this in order to be successful," Fruit said. "But we weren't able to accomplish that, and they took full advantage throughout the ballgame. They also got a great game from one of their key players, and we really were never able to stay with them."
That performance Fruit remarked upon came from WC senior forward Ben Versluys, who produced a contest-leading 16 points and 10 rebounds. Junior teammate Chris King was next in line with 14 tallies, while senior Jordan Warrener added nine.
The Warriors (20-6) also shot well, nailing 24 of 51 (47 percent) from the floor and a respectable 6 of 18 (33 percent) from 3-point land while also establishing great pressure defense that proved to be the key in upending the Panthers.
"We pressure the ball very well in both zone and man defense, and I thought our energy was great right out of the box tonight," said WC coach Andrew Zielenski. "They got on their heels, early and we didn't let up the rest of the game. We played hard tonight and left everything out there, and it showed with a really big win like this holding all of their scorers to less than 10 points."
L-E coughed the ball up nine times during the first quarter, and as a result trailed 21-6 after eight minutes of play where Versluys tallied six points including a long-range 3 with 10 seconds to go in the frame. He'd add six more in the second quarter as did King, helping put the Warriors ahead 36-19 at the intermission.
WC would outscore the Panthers 17-12 in the third period, as Versluys chipped in another six markers to up the margin to 55-31 entering the final eight minutes. There, King hit a deuce to open the quarter followed by a Warrener triple to give the Warriors their biggest lead of the contest at 58-31.
Aviles would record five consecutive points with a deuce at 5:55, another at 5:25 and a free throw at 4:30 before the Warriors closed on a 6-2 run to end their lopsided victory with King notching all of the points down the stretch as the Panthers bowed out.
"It was a tough year for us, but the kids worked hard, and even tonight I felt they worked hard against a very good basketball team," Fruit said. "I hope we can come back next year, make some improvements and get better moving forward."
At Al Stegman Court, Serena
Westminster Christian 64, Leland-Earlville 38
(Key: FG FT-FTA TP)
L-E (38) — Larkin 1 0-0 2, M. Aviles 2 1-2 5, Gast 0 0-0 0, Campbell 1 1-2 3, Provence 0 0-0 0, E. Aviles 0 0-0 0, Sansone 2 0-0 5, Stralka 4 0-2 8, Bretsch 3 0-1 6, Seits 0 0-0 0, Fitzgerald 2 0-0 4, B. Sweeney 1 1-2 3, D. Sweeney 0 2-2 2, Shannon 0 0-0 0. Totals 16-49 5-11 38.
WESTMINSTER (64) — Kmieciak 2 2-2 6, Haecker 0 0-0 0, Stoll 3 0-0 6, Guge 0 2-3 2, Haegeland 0 0-0 0, Barker 2 0-1 6, Versluys 7 1-5 16, Warrener 3 1-2 9, Hoersch 1 2-3 5, King 6 2-4 14, Yu 0 0-0 0. Totals 24-51 10-20 64.
L-E (12-16) 6 13 12 7 — 38
Westminster (20-6) 21 15 17 11 — 64
3-point goals – L-E 1-9 (Sansone); WC 6-18 (Barker 2, Warrener 2, Versluys, Hoersch). Rebounds – L-E 31 (Bretsch 9, B. Sweeney 5, M. Aviles 5); WC 32 (Versluys 10, Kmieciak 5). Turnovers – L-E 29; WC 17. Total fouls (none fouled out) – L-E 17; WC 10.