By Justin Whitaker
DANVILLE — The Tri-West boys’ basketball team’s season came to an end in its sectional opener against a hot Northwest team.
Winners of nine straight games, the Space Pioneers defeated the Bruins 86-62 at Danville Community High School.
Seven Northwest players scored eight points or more, including five in double digits, as Tri-West had trouble keeping up.
“Their athleticism from the beginning of their bench to the bottom of the bench is probably just as good as almost anybody in the state, not even let alone (Class) 3A,” Tri-West coach Adam Bontreger said. “They are an extremely talented team, extremely athletic group and when they are hitting outside shots the way they were hitting it’s really difficult for us to stay in a ball game like that.”
The Bruins trailed only 14-11 after the first quarter before the Space Pioneers took off.
Northwest made five of its seven 3-pointers in the second quarter and led 41-23 at halftime. Tri-West played a 2-3 zone and was hopeful to catch the skilled team on an off night shooting.
“It’s hard to defend them in the man-to-man situation because of their quickness, athleticism, and ability to break us down 1-on-1,” Bontreger said. “We had to rely on our zone and when teams are shooting the way they were shooting it, it’s going to be hard to beat anybody on a given night.”
Tri-West cut the lead to 13 in the third quarter after a Kyle Stamm layup, but it was as close as the Bruins would get in the second half. While they were unable to mount a comeback, the effort never wavered for Tri-West.
“That’s who we are as a basketball program. We are built on hard work. That’s what we are all about and playing with passion. Our community has been supportive of us all year,” Bontreger said. “Tonight we wanted to remind our kids what it meant to play hard and play with pride down the stretch.”
Sophomore Trevor Waite led Tri-West with 20 points and sophomore Jake Hendershot added 11 points. Stamm came off the bench to score 12 points in his final game as a Bruin.
Bontreger praised all five of his seniors after the game, a group that started with him in the program four years ago when he became Tri-West’s head coach.
Mitch Alexander was praised for being a vocal leader and “the type of kid you want in your program because of his toughness, his mental toughness, and his will and desire to win.”
Sam Koelling was commended for his three-point shooting, leadership as a captain, and as someone who will be hard to replace.
Bontreger felt that Stamm had been huge at the end of the season for the Bruins and was playing his best basketball of his entire life.
Nick Phelps and Dustin Burks were the final two seniors that Bontreger complimented. Phelps for his energy and spark off the bench and Burks for sticking with the sport and starting the majority the season.
“For five of those guys to stick it out through four years of our practices and four years of at times ups and downs, I thought our leadership was much improved just because of our seniors,” Bontreger said. “Each one had a different story to tell, each one had a different role on our team, and that’s what makes up good programs when you have good leadership from the top.”