LaSALLE – For much of the season, and especially the past 14 games, the Sterling Golden Warriors have been able to control the tempo of the games they’ve played.
Controlling the tempo led to a 14-game winning streak for Sterling, heading into Friday’s 3A LaSalle-Peru Sectional championship game against Metamora. The Redbirds, who were trying for their first sectional title in program history, forced the Golden Warriors to experience something they weren’t used to seeing.
Not a lot of lightning-quick up-tempo play was evident throughout the game, and the unfamiliarity was a factor in ending the Golden Warriors’ season with a 48-43 loss, one game short of its first sectional title in 10 years.
Sterling (23-10) led just once in a game which was close for the whole 32 minutes, that brief lead happening with 4:56 to play in the third quarter. Tyler Willman’s bucket gave Sterling a 26-25 lead, but it was quickly snatched away on a 3 from Andrew Buis. Metamora (19-11) led the rest of the way.
“Metamora did a good job slowing the game down,” Willman said. “It’s not really how we like to play, it’s not our game, and it kind of got us out of our comfort zone. They took care of the ball really well.”
Buis was the sectional’s 3-point champion in the contest held before the game, and carried over his shooting prowess early in the game. Buis hit a pair of 3s, and Thomas Hall added another to lift the Redbirds to a 12-5 advantage.
Late in the first quarter, Metamora’s Colin Dietz was called for a blocking foul, then was called for a technical after arguing the call. Sean Gingrich went to the free-throw line to make the technical shots, and it sparked a 7-0 run through the end of the quarter.
Isaiah Ryan made the first of three 3s, and Micah Kendrick added a bucket on the way to a 12-12 tie after one quarter.
Sterling knotted up the game again at 14 and 19, but the Redbirds closed the second quarter with a 6-0 run to lead 25-19 at halftime. Aidan Shore, 3 days removed from posting the first triple-double in program history, opened the second half with a putback of a missed shot, and Kendrick added a pair of free throws before Willman’s go-ahead bucket.
While Sterling outscored Metamora 12-8 in the third quarter, it couldn’t carry the momentum over into the fourth.
“They did a good job controlling the tempo,” Kendrick said of the Redbirds. “They game-planned well, and we couldn’t speed it up, and it was a little too late for us to come back.”
Having had enough of the slow-downs, Sterling tried to increase the tempo. However, double-teams left Redbird players open on three occasions. Hall found Clayton Bachman twice from the top of the key, firing to him both times for short, easy jump shots.
“We handled their initial pressure, looked ahead, and Thomas made some nice passes,” Metamora coach Danny Grieves said. “Our kids have done a nice job, and have done a great job all year, and we’ve inched along to get better. Early on [in the season] we weren’t very good, but I’m proud of our guys.”
The other such opportunity came with 1:34 in regulation, as Hall dished to Buis for bucket and a 46-40 lead.
“They were double-teaming our guys up top, and they left our post guys open,” Hall said. “[The win is] really big for our school. It was a good game both ways.”
After the Golden Warriors collected their postgame thoughts and exited the locker room, Kendrick and Sterling coach Ryan Vasquez thought of all the positives of what their team had accomplished throughout the season – a long winning streak, back-to-back 20-win seasons, and their first sectional semifinal win in a decade.
“Our seniors raised the bar this year,” Vasquez said. “That started the minute we lost last season. They accepted the challenge. When your seniors are coachable, and you can be on them every single day in practice, and they accept those challenges, a 14-game win streak happens.”
On the boys basketball sign back home at Musgrove Fieldhouse, Kendrick looks forward to seeing “18” alongside the other Golden Warriors teams to make it as far as the Sweet 16.
“It hurts because you know that you could’ve won it, but there’s nothing to hang our heads on – look what Sterling basketball did,” Kendrick said. “We hadn’t won a sectional game in a decade. Teams like this are going to be going down the record books. We’re going to have our number up there in Musgrove Fieldhouse.”
3A LaSalle-Peru Sectional final
Metamora 48, Sterling 43
Star of the game: Andrew Buis, Metamora, 21 points
Key performers: Thomas Hall, Metamora, 8 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks; Isaiah Ryan, Sterling, 11 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals;’ Micah Kendrick, Sterling, 9 points, 5 rebounds