Tri-Valley earns wins vs. Fieldcrest, LeRoy

EL PASO – Trailing 14-1 with 1:31 left in the first quarter of the consolation championship Saturday morning at El Paso-Gridley High School, the Tri-Valley Vikings turned to their pressure defense. 

Eight minutes of game time later, the Vikings and the Fieldcrest Knights were tied at 20. By the end of the game, Tri-Valley had pulled off the 47-41 victory. 

“Obviously we know we are better than how we started the game. We keyed in and we focused and obviously our defense was important getting us back in the game,” Tri-Valley head coach Jon Nelson said. “Then once we got back in the game, I think we did a good job of transitioning back to half-court basketball.” 

With 16 seconds left in the first quarter, senior Shane Johnson got to the bucket, made the shot and was fouled, converting the free throw to cut the Vikings’ deficit to 17-5. 

In the next six minutes, the Vikings went on a 17-3 run to take a brief 22-20 lead at the 1:39 mark of the second quarter before going into the half down 25-23. 

The first half performance include nine missed free throws in 17 attempts for the Vikings despite their comeback effort. 

“Our kids could have easily thrown in the towel, we missed a ton of free throws early, and sometimes you just can’t explain that,” Nelson said. “Today, with the hole we were in we had to press them to get back in and our kids did a good job executing.” 

The Vikings forced turnover after turnover in the comeback run, especially in the second and third quarters. They created points off the fast break, and worked it into Hunter Merritt, who had a strong game in the post and from the three-point arch. 

Merritt led the team with 11 points in a game where nine Vikings scored. He was followed by Shane Johnsons with seven, while Jake Steiner, Aaron Kussmann and Mason Cagley each scored six. 

“This is a strange year. We have had stretches where guys are leading scorers for two or three games, then the defenses adjust and someone else steps up,” Nelson said. “We have a lot of balance, and on different nights, different guys step up.”

To start the second half, the Vikings quickly fell behind once again, trailing 30-25 at two and a half minutes into the action. 

But at the 5:15 mark Merritt came through with a bucket, then Cagley hit a three, Kussmann connected on a shot, Clayton Leipold nailed a triple and Merritt hooked up with Johnson for a bucket. 

The Vikings had taken a 39-30 lead at the two-minute mark of the third quarter. 

Fieldcrest would answer with a 5-0 run to close the quarter before tying it with 5:37 left in the fourth. 

But Jake Steiner took a steal and scored before Fieldcrest’s Cam Grandy tied the game once again two minutes later. 

At the 1:10 mark of the final frame, Kussmann scored a putback bucket on a Merritt miss, giving the Vikings the 43-41 lead that would be enough to win it.  

With about 20 second left, Jake Steiner caught an inbound baseball pass and took it to the bucket for another score before Ward closed it out with a pair of free throws for the 47-41 final. 

“We don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we need to be lucky at the end. Making some plays today took us out of that position,” Nelson said. “Our kids really did a nice job of fighting back and executing. It’s definitely good to be on the other end of these close games.” 

The win earned the Vikings the consolation championship after they previously defeated Eureka. It was their second win against Fieldcest after a one-point loss to open their season. 

 

Vikings top LeRoy

DOWNS — The Tri-Valley Vikings got some payback against the LeRoy Panthers Tuesday night a little over a week after the teams last faced each other. 

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The Vikings won 63-57 in double overtime Tuesday night after losing a one-point overtime contest to the Panthers in the opening round of the McLean County Tournament last week. 

Tri-Valley’s Hunter Merritt netted 26 points in the victory while Nick Perry netted 25 for the LeRoy boys. 

The Vikings led after each of the first three quarters before the Panthers rallied to force a 44-44 tie at the end of regulation. 

After the first overtime, the score was 49-49, but the Vikings were able to take control in the second overtime period. 

Brett Egan chipped in 16 for the Panthers in the loss. 

The win improved Tri-Valley to 3-5 in Heart of Illinois Conference play, while the LeRoy boys fell to 4-5 in the HOIC. 

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