ROCKFORD — Having to replace four starters from last year’s state tournament team, West Hancock knew it would take some time to find chemistry on the basketball court.
This season’s team has been met with injuries, struggles at times with running a new offense, and an overall feeling that it had a long way to go. On Thursday night in a non-conference game at Rockford, the Eagles found out a little more about themselves as they hung on for a 68-63 win over the up-and-coming Warriors.
“We had a lot of guts. We let it go from us a bit and they got closer and I didn’t like that, but we fought, stayed strong and stayed together as a team and scratched a clawed for everything we had,” West Hancock senior Chase Eisenman said. “It’s a great team win. We bring energy and I love that, and it’s when we need it.”
Eisenman is the only starter back from that team a year ago, and his presence alone makes a difference for the Eagles. But they’ve also had plenty of new and even familiar faces step up and do some scoirng. Those pieces were all in action Thursday night.
The Eagles and Warriors matched each other shot for shot in the opening eight minutes, playing to a 16-16 tie. Late in the second is when West Hancock started to make its move as it entered halftime with a 33-28 lead.
It used that late run and turned it into a stretch in the third quarter in which it outscored Rockford 18-8. In the third, junior Lucas Weiland was on fire as he drilled three 3-pointers and had 11 points in the quarter.
The lead eventually grew to 60-46 before the Warriors showed a little fire.
An 8-0 followed for Rockford as it whittled the lead down to 60-54 built on its pressure defense, and it just kept chipping away as it eventually got it down to 65-63 with 50 seconds to play. The Warriors forced the Eagles into nine turnovers in the key stretch.
But West Hancock picked itself back up to hang on for the five-point victory.
“At times we had kids trying to do too much instead of just relaxing and let them come get us, but the kids sat there in the huddle and said, ‘This is still our game,’” West Hancock coach Brian Peterson said. “They believed, and they believed in themselves.”
Weiland paced the Eagles with a game-high 22 points, Gavin Becker scored 15, and Eisenman and MaCoy Yeakel had 13 apiece.
Zach Bushbaum, Alex Schriever and Max Rooney provided the lift for the Warriors in the scoring column, particularly in the fourth as the trio combined for 18 points in the final eight minutes. For the game, Bushbaum led the way with 18, Rooney scored 16 and Schriever had 12.
West Hancock headed into the winter break with a 4-4 record.
“This is a great win,” Eisenman said. “Rockford is a really good team … and playing at their place and getting a win was big for us; a big confidence booster.”