CLARION – The West Hancock boys basketball team has made appearances in the last two state tournaments.
On paper, it looked like a third straight trip was a long shot as the Eagles had some rebuilding to do.
Also, West Hancock’s opponent in substate play, West Fork, had downed the Eagles by 17 not quite a month ago.
On Saturday, West Hancock dominated the final half of play and pulled away late for a 53-44 win which qualifies the Eagles for a third straight appearance in the Class 1A tournament field.
“We have won games with our defense,” Eagles coach Brian Peterson said. “We didn’t really do that the last couple of years.”
West Hancock trailed 26-22 at the intermission, but the defense was the difference in the second half.
The Eagles’ second-half zone forced West Fork into a one-dimensional offense as it severely limited the Warhawks’ ability to attack the basket.
West Hancock limited West Fork to just four points in the third quarter and held the Warhawks to just 33 percent shooting over the final two quarters.
In the fourth quarter, the West Hancock seniors, who played important roles over the past two state appearances, took over at the offensive end.
“It was amazing,” Eagles forward Dylan Eckels said. “It was our time to shine.”
With a one-point lead entering the final period, West Hancock seniors Eckels, Seth Weiland and Ben Eisenman combined to score 20 points to help the Eagles pull away.
The trio was a combined 3 for 6 from the floor – including a pair of 3-pointers by Eckels – and 12 for 12 from the free-throw line.
Eckels and Eisenman combined for 19 points apiece to lead the Eagles.
Weiland added eight.
Zach Martinek led West Fork with 16 points.
Travis Fekkers and Mitch Halloran had nine points apiece.
West Hancock (19-6) advances to Class 1A quarterfinal play on March 6 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.