PRESTON – It was a matchup between two teams who have been vying for top spots in the Tri-Rivers Conference and Class 1A all season on Monday night. Easton Valley and Prince of Peace went head to head for the second time this season. This one came out 53-47 in Easton Valley's favor.
It was No. 8 Prince of Peace's second loss of the season.
Unlike the first time the two met, this time Easton Valley was at full strength, while Prince of Peace was not. They were missing Michael Matthew, which showed in the paint and on the rebounding.
Meanwhile, the River Hawks were clicking on all cylinders.
"Defensively, we finally covered the people we needed to cover," River Hawk head coach Dan Beck said. "Toward the end it really came down to fundamentals, we did a good job of boxing out on the boards. For the most part, down the stretch we executed well offensively."
Chippy would be an understatement for the contest that ensued Monday night. Fouls ran rampant on both ends from over the backs and holds to offensive charges. After that, there was post-whistle discussion from the players on many calls. The crowds joined in.
The atmosphere that followed from the packed to capacity 'Hawk's Nest' rivaled that of a postseason game and definitely is one of the best the area has seen this season.
The Irish battled cold shooting for the first half. No threes were dropped. Meanwhile, Easton Valley's Nate Trenkamp couldn't seem to miss from beyond the arc.
"He was really focused tonight," Beck said. "He was really dialed in and that was good to see."
They ended up down nine, and Trenkamp came out of the gates in the second and drained another one to give Easton Valley the 12 point advantage. After some battling, the Irish managed to go into the halftime break trailing 25-21.
The second half was an intense defensive battle. The Irish were up on the perimeter defense tight, and were getting touches on balls left and right. The River Hawks were doing the same.
That's when the River Hawks started to pull away. Curtis Hartung tipped in an offensive rebound for the River Hawks, and then Trenkamp came down and hit another three. He ended with 22 points on the night, a team-high. The River Hawks had a seven point lead.
Cue an unexpected spark for the Irish. Hansi Hudson, a senior who has seen limited minutes through the majority of the season, threw up a three that found the net. Immediately after, Hudson picked up a steal and drew a foul, putting in a free throw.
The streak was capped off when Kaidion Larson found Hudson wide open for a short baseline jumper. The Irish were back within two, and tied it up after a pair of steals and Nathan Moeller free throws.
That's when Jessen Weber took his chance. He drew a foul, and then continued to draw fouls and make free throws. He went 6-8 from the line in the fourth quarter to keep the River Hawks ahead of the Irish. Meanwhile Hartung and Kaleb Cornilsen did their jobs on the boards while Prince of Peace couldn't seem to find the rim.
Nathan Moeller led the Irish with 16, Kaidion Larson with 11 and Patrick Mulholland with 10. For Easton Valley, on top of Trenkamp's 22, Weber had 11 and Curtis Hartung 10.
The two teams have the chance to meet in the Class 1A District 6 final during the postseason, that will take place at Cascade if it happens. Before that, they have districts to worry about.
Prince of Peace (15-2) will wrap up their regular season with a home game against Calamus-Whealtand Tuesday night and then another against Marquette Catholic on Thursday. Easton Valley (17-3) hosts Marquette Catholic on Tuesday night. Both will play at the Joe O'Donnell Athletic Center in Clinton for their first rounds of regionals.