Just two days after their 33-point win over Howe the Van Alstyne Panthers were tested in the opening round of the Sanger Tournament on Dec. 5, earning a 57-49 win over Saginaw Chisolm Trail.
The opening round proved to be the only round as Mother Nature intervened, knocking all of the other area teams out of scheduled tournament action.
Van Alstyne enjoyed comfortable leads early in the contest, including a 29-18 advantage at the half and a 12-point edge at the end of three.
The Rangers, a team much like Van Alstyne loaded with underclassmen, turned up the defensive pressure early in the fourth quarter and got back into the game.
“They are a very physical team, they play good defense and rebounded the ball well,” Van Alstyne head coach Russell Best said.
That defensive presence got the Panther lead down to three on a couple of occasions, but accuracy at the free-throw line kept the Van Alstyne unbeaten streak alive.
With just over a minute left, Chisolm Trail was going for the steal in an effort to stop the clock on fouls. Zach Davis was money on two attempts to push the Van Alstyne lead to four and Jared McMakin was four-for-four from the stripe to stop the Rangers’ comeback efforts.
“Zach and Jared stepped up there at the end when it really counted.” said Best.
It was the typical Panther offense at the start as 3-pointers fell early and often. Twelve of the team’s 16 first-quarter points came from beyond the arc as Bailey Thorpe and Joey Jackson each dropped treys in the opening eight points while Isaiah Boling knocked down a two-point bucket.
Thorpe’s second three, this one from NBA range, extended Van Alstyne’s lead to 23-12 early in the second period.
The final six points of the quarter came from the free-throw line, two from Colin McCaskill who was fouled while attempting — what else — a 3-ball.
The Panthers were getting into the lane in the third period with most of the scoring coming from Davis, who tallied 10 points in the quarter.
With the seconds running down on the third quarter clock Davis grabbed a rebound at the Rangers basket, took a couple of dribbles up the sideline and got off a half-court shot that was nothing but net. It was all coming up aces for the Panthers on this day.
The Rangers scored the first six points of the fourth period, however, a run halted when Blake Linnebur nailed a corner-3 to push the lead back to 11 points.
McMakin made a nice feed to Jake Hillebrenner who scored on a dive cut, forcing a Chislom Trail timeout with just over five minutes left in the contest. The Rangers began a comeback run then, getting inside the Van Alstyne defense. A a 3-ball by Stephon Walker (no relation) and a bucket by Josh Jones cut the lead to just three. Jones finished with 16 points to lead the Rangers.
The Chisolm Trail press was leaving a Panther player open, you just had to spot him. Hillebrenner did just that, whipping a pass to Harrison Awe for a deuce to hold off the Ranger charge.
That free-throw line success came through in the clutch as the Panthers ran their record to 9-0.
Van Alstyne 16 13 14 14 — 57
Chisolm Trail 8 10 13 18 — 49
VA: Zach Davis 16, Isaiah Boling 10, Bailey Thorpe 10, Colin McCaskill 6, Jared McMakin 4, Joey Jackson 3,
Blake Linnebur 3, Jake Hillebrenner 3, Harrison Awe 2.