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Eastland roughs up Aquin in sectional final


Eastland's Ty Hartman holds onto the Class 1A Eastland Sectional championship plaque Friday after the Cougars beat Aquin 49-31. Eastland advances to Tuesday's DeKalb Supersectional.
Eastland's Ty Hartman holds onto the Class 1A Eastland Sectional championship plaque Friday after the Cougars beat Aquin 49-31. Eastland advances to Tuesday's DeKalb Supersectional.

LANARK – Eastland needs to add one more song to its pregame playlist.

That song is "Let's Get Physical."

The Cougars beat up Aquin physically, then sapped the Bulldogs' spirit on their way to a 49-31 victory on Friday night in the Class 1A Eastland Sectional championship game.

Now it's on to the DeKalb Supersectional on Tuesday, where Eastland will take on either Newark or Chicagoland Jewish. Those squads meet Saturday in the Mooseheart Sectional final.

"We've been gone too long," said Eastland coach Tony Dunlap, whose team last made it to the Supersectional in 2010, "but it's good to be back."

The Cougars (29-3) are at this point thanks in large part to its second consecutive suffocating defensive performance. After holding high-scoring Erie guard Jacob Johnston to nine points on Wednesday night in a 62-41 win, Eastland topped that by holding Aquin to a season-low point total.

The Bulldogs' previous low was 44 points, when they topped Newman 44-28 on Jan. 2.

"We take pride in our defense," junior forward Skylar Paulson said. "We practice really hard on defense. I love playing defense, and I love guarding the other team's best player. We just all worked together, and we did an amazing job on such a good team."

Paulson spent most of his night checking Aquin forward Nolan Brannick, who managed just five points on 2-for-16 shooting.

"They just body up, and get in your face, and try to frustrate you," Brannick said. "They move their feet really well, and they're a great team, obviously. They showed that tonight."

Aquin (26-3) was still within striking distance early in the fourth quarter. A basket from junior forward Andrew Martin got the Bulldogs to within 41-31 with 6 minutes, 35 seconds left, but they didn't score the rest of the game. They missed 12 of 13 shot attempts in the fourth quarter.

The nail in the coffin for Aquin came with 2:39 remaining. Eastland's Dalton Shaner caught a long inbounds pass, and as he came down, ran into the Bulldogs' Aiden Chang. Chang was whistled for a block, and teammate Zach Moyer voiced his displeasure to an official.

Moyer received a technical, and Shaner dropped in four straight free throws to up Eastland's lead to 16 (47-31).

Aquin coach Rich Chang wasn't happy with the physical nature of the game, and the area he thought it showed most was in rebounding. Eastland had a 35-16 advantage in that department.

"I think our guys felt like they were getting pushed around a little too much," Chang said. "They're a big, physical team. They're strong, and I just think our guys let that get into their heads that there was a little bit too much going on underneath."

Aiden Chang scored eight points to lead Aquin, while Anthony Townsend added seven.

Shaner led Eastland with 15 points, with some ballhandling wizardry thrown in, as well. Before halftime, he yo-yoed the ball several times near midcourt before weaving his way through the Aquin defense and spinning home a spectacular layup. It gave his team a 32-16 lead, and he downplayed any style points.

"I don't like to consider it putting on a show, because coach doesn't like that," Shaner said, "but I was definitely thinking this is my chance to give our team the momentum that we need going into halftime."

Ty Hartman added 12 points for Eastland, which erased some bad memories of the last time it took to its home court with a championship on the line. That was a year ago, when it was upset by Forreston in a regional final.

"That loss helped us," Shaner said. "It showed how much harder we had to work as a team and individuals to get better. This just shows hard work pays off. We're not done yet, but we've gotten so much better and gone so much farther this year because of that loss.

"We know how it feels, and we don't want that disappointment again."

Star of the game: Dalton Shaner, Eastland 15 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals

Key performer: Ty Hartman, Eastland, 12 points, 7 rebounds

Up next: 1A DeKalb Supersectional vs. Newark-Chicagoland Jewish winner, 6 p.m. Tuesday

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