Romping Reds run out of tourney rallies
VICKSBURG - For the second year in a row, Paw Paw and Three Rivers matched up in the District Finals Saturday. Last year’s tourney game went to the Wildcats by two points at Paw Paw.
The Redskins had defeated rather handily earlier in the regular season all three teams they faced in the tournament, playing one of their best games for a 71-49 win over Three Rivers on the Paw Paw home court. However, each of these teams was well-prepared for a Redskin rematch, which made for some thrilling tournament basketball. The thrill ended, though, as the Wildcats outplayed the Tribe for a 67-63 win, and their second straight District title.
A Paw Paw team that had often in conference play jumped out to an early large lead, made a major turnabout in the tourney, falling behind by a lot to begin each game and having to battle back all three times - the third rally coming up just short.
Three Rivers built a quick 20-9 lead at the start with some fancy shooting and almost complete control of their offensive glass, a problem that would plague the Redskins all evening. The Reds were somewhat hampered from the onset without two starters. Jai' Johnson was out for the third game in a row, and Todd MacDonald was limited to very few minutes due to an injury sustained the previous night.
Some bad early shooting from poor shot selection allowed the Wildcats to go up 29-16 in the second period before Luke Toliver hit two triples and Aidan Luma, one, for a Redskin 9-0 run that made it a game again. Paw Paw’s 6-5, 240-lb. sophomore Karsen Barnhart made his presence felt with back-to-back blocked shots, but Three Rivers remained up 37-28 at intermission.
Toliver again canned a pair of triples early in the third quarter, and a Barnhart rebound and put-back gave the Red and White their first lead of the night. Luma, along with some more scoring from Toliver, Barnhart, and Trey Brennan made it appear the ’Skins were about to take control of the game, until a late third period 9-0 Wildcat run put the Purple and White up by seven going into the fourth quarter.
The final minutes were frenzied and well-played, but the inability of the Redskins to stop second and third shots off rebounds by the Wildcats continued to take a toll. Barnhart and Toliver were the main story as the clock wound down. A Barnhart field goal with 27.1 left on the clock made it a three-point margin. However, the Redskins had to foul and one Three Rivers free throw made it a four-point game with under 10 seconds left. Paw Paw got off a pair of three point attempts as the clock ran out, but to no avail.
Toliver was the team high point man with 23, Barnhart had a career high 13 tallies in a breakout game that also included nine rebounds and five blocked shots. Nathan Smetana was the top rebounder with 10.
Brennan had 14 points in his final game of a great varsity career at Paw Paw. In fact, seven seniors saw their last action on the hardwood for Paw Paw, including Brennan, Smetana, Taylor Antles, Will Downard, MacDonald, Johnson, and Chase Parker.
The Redskins ended a very successful season at 18-5 with a perfect 9-0 record at home. The win total was the highest since Coach Dave Wassink’s 2003-04 Redskin team went 20-6.