The Switzerland County Pacers continued their quest towards a Sectional title on Friday night with a 61-56 win over Austin in the tourney’s semifinal round. The win came after a solid, team-oriented battle for all four quarters.
The Pacer offense was steady all night long, as Switzerland County scored in double figures in each of the four quarters; while the defense held strong, even withstanding a big run by the Eagles in the third period to claim the win.
Austin got the scoring started with an inside bucket by Kenton Embry; but the Pacers countered back, going inside for two from Hunter Hayes.
The Eagles then got two straight buckets by Trevor McIntosh; but the Pacers got a basket and a freethrow from Hunter Hayes to stay within one. After McIntosh hit a freethrow, Justin Green tied the game when he grabbed an offensive rebound and made the put-back; and Green followed that with another bucket inside.
Austin then tied the game on another basket by McIntosh; but the Pacers grabbed the lead heading into the first break when senior Ben Curran launched a long three-pointer that found the range, putting Switzerland County up 12-9 at the quarter and bringing the Pacer fans to their feet.
Hunter Hayes extended the lead to five with a basket to open the second period; and after Matthew Johnson scored for Austin, Curran made a steal and converted it to a layup.
The Eagles countered with baskets by Markus Fleenor and Brady Patton; but Pacer Kollin Hayes responded to that with a three-point play and a freethrow to again give Switzerland County a five point lead.
Two freethrows from McIntosh and a basket by Patton again pulled Austin to within one; but Switzerland County closed the half on a run, getting a three-pointer from Caleb Furnish and four straight freethrows from Riley Phagan to make the score 27-19 in favor of the Pacers.
The eight point lead didn’t hold up long, as Austin’s Fleenor came out of the break on fire.
The senior scored seven straight to open the third quarter, narrowing the lead down to one. Furnish responded with another three-pointer and Dakota Fuller followed that with a pair of freethrows, and again the Pacers had some breathing room. Dakota Staschke scored for Austin; Fuller hit a freethrow for the Pacers; and Staschke scored again for the Eagles. Furnish scored to keep the back-and-forth action going; and after Patton hit a bucket, Phagan got on track offensively, hitting a big three-pointer.
Austin wouldn’t go away, as the defending Sectional champs got another basket from Staschke; but Green negated that with a couple of freethrows.
Down six, Austin would go on a game-tying run, getting six straight points to tie the game at 40-40 with 1:12 to go.
Again, the Pacers poured the ball inside to Green, who was simply unstoppable for the Eagle defense. His bucket broke the tie; but Fleenor scored again to knot the game; and the teams headed to the bench with the third quarter finished and the contest tied at 42-42.
Austin opened the final stanza with a basket by Staschke to grab a quick lead; but again Green got free inside and converted, tying the score again.
Patton’s bucket pushed the Eagles out to a two-point lead; but Curran, who had been hampered by back spasms after taking a tumble at midcourt in the second quarter, showed his senior leadership by powering through the injury to lead his teammates. He scored inside to tie the game; but Fleenor followed that with a freethrow to again break the tie.
The back and forth continued, as each team looked for breathing room.
Hunter Hayes’s inside basket gave the Pacers a one-point lead, and Green again got free inside to swell the lead to three with five minutes to play. Austin’s Patton then hit a three-pointer to tie the contest; and after Kollin Hayes scored, the Eagles got two straight baskets by Fleenor to go up by two.
Curran was then fouled and went to the line, and after making the first of two, when his second attempt bounced off, the senior raced in, grabbed the offensive rebound, and made the put-back for a unique three-point play that again gave the Pacer fans some life.
Fleenor quickly quieted that with a basket that gave Austin a one-point lead; but those would be the final points that the Eagles would score.
Kollin Hayes ripped through the middle for a basket that pushed the Pacers back in front; and after a defensive stand, Austin was forced to foul in an attempt to get the ball back, but senior Phagan came through, hitting four straight to give Switzerland County a five-point win, 61-56.
Balance was the key for the Pacers, as Green led the way with 12 points; while seniors Phagan and Curran were also in double figures with 11 and 10.
Hunter Hayes had nine; Kollin Hayes and Furnish each had eight; and Fuller contributed three.
Austin was led by Fleenor with 18 (16 in the second half); Patton with 13 and Staschke with 11. McIntosh added nine.
The win propelled the Pacers into the Sectional 45 championship game on Saturday night, where they took on South Ripley, which defeated North Decatur in Friday’s second semifinal.