FORRESTON – Eastland senior Dalton Shaner chose the right time to snap offensively for his team.
He scored 15 points in the fourth quarter to help his Cougars defeat the Aquin Bulldogs 66-61 on Friday night in the 1A Forreston Regional Championship.
This included a shake-and-bake 3-pointer to give his team the lead with 3.4 seconds remaining.
On the previous Eastland possession, Aquin senior Anthony Townsend made a sneaky steal for the Bulldogs with about 30 seconds left. He then got fouled on the ensuing possession, and stepped to the line to shoot a pair of free throws.
The score was tied at 61, and 22 seconds reamined. He missed both, which gave Eastland the ball. Shaner drew a double-team, which he shook off with a fake before launching the go-ahead three.
"When we turned it over, I was thinking 'here comes the game-winner,'" Shaner said. "I was hoping he would miss one so we could still hit a two and win, but that'd be great if he missed both so we're at least going to overtime.
"Luckily he missed both. [On the other end] I saw the double-team and went opposite of it. I got a good look at three, and I put it down."
The victory is even more impressive considering the top four teams in the regional (also Polo and Milledgeville) combined for 88 wins, and the final game lived up to all of the hype surrounding it.
There were six ties, and the largest lead was Aquin's 8-point lead at the 5:51 mark of the second quarter. There were 10 lead changes overall.
A big reason why Eastland was in the game from the get-go was thanks to senior Skylar Paulson, who scored 15 of his 20 points in the first half, and went 4-for-6 from behind the arc, and included a 4-point play. Not only did he shoulder the offense, but he also drew the daunting task of guarding Aquin star Aiden Chang.
"We were really stagnant in the first quarter, and Aquin got up by a couple on us," Paulson said. "Guys were standing, and we weren't really cutting. They were sagging on me, so I shot it and it went. I kept shooting and it kept falling. My teammates were a really big part in this. Shots were falling for us all and it really got us into it.
"Aiden Chang, he's a heck of a player," Paulson continued. "He's got really long arms for his height, and he's a heck of a shooter. I sagged off a little bit to try and make him shoot those deep bombs. If he's going to make those bombs, then they're probably going to win. But I just kept him in front, and he still makes those shots, they have a good shot of winning."
Despite Paulson's sharp shooting, the Bulldogs still maintained a 32-30 lead going into the break. Out of the break, Shaner and Chang put on a show, exchanging baskets left and right.
However, it was Chang who got the temporary last laugh in the third. His 13-point quarter bested Shaner's nine-point quarter, and Aquin held a 49-46 lead heading into the final stanza.
This is when Eastland cranked up the defense, holding Chang to only a field goal, and the rest of the Bulldogs to 12 points.
"They had just such great players with Chang and Martin and Townsend," Eastland coach Tony Dunlap said. "Great shooters, and post players that can step out and hit the mid-range jump shot. I thought all of our kids did a great job. I think our overall defense was the big key to the game. Towards the end we got some huge rebounds, and didn't give up too many second-chance shots in the last 2, 3 minutes in the game, and that was huge for us."
With the defensive end taken care of for the Cougars, Shaner was allowed to do what he does best: create efficient offense in bunches. In the fourth, he was 4-for-8 from the field, which included three 3-pointers, and also went 3-for-4 from the charity stripe.
The only other field goal from Eastland in the fourth was from Paulson. The duo combined for 50 points, with Paulson pouring in 20, and Shaner finishing it off with 30.
"I think we came out with OK energy, but not as much as we needed," Shaner said. "Paulson was huge in the first half for us, he executed well. We knew we needed to bring a strong second half to win, and we did that."
Star of the game: Dalton Shaner, Eastland, 30 points, 6 rebounds.
Key performers: Skylar Paulson, Eastland, 20 points, 8 rebounds. Aiden Chang, Aquin, 20 points, 7 rebounds 2 assists.
Up next: 1A River Ridge Sectional, Eastland vs. Dakota, 7 p.m. Wednesday