PIERCE — The Battle Creek boys basketball team built a six-point halftime lead over Norfolk Catholic and then made it a goal to maintain that advantage the rest of the game.
Battle Creek’s defense was able to make stops but, just as importantly, the Braves were also able to put points on the board, either with field goals or free throws to down the Knights 62-54 to earn a berth in Thursday’s subdistrict final against host Pierce.
“Defense, free throws, and we tried to take care of every possession we had,” Battle Creek coach Matt Rudloff said. “We tried to drive the ball to the rim as much as we could.”
The game began with a series of lead changes until the teams settled for a 14-14 tie after the first quarter, but Norfolk Catholic broke a tie at 16 early in the second to establish its largest lead of the game at 25-20.
However, four straight free throws by Jace Meinke and a basket in the lane by Hunter Oestreich put Battle Creek up 26-25 and the Braves wouldn’t trail again, countering four points from the Knights’ Christian Mickleson with a 3 by Reece Bode, another drive from Hunter Oestreich and a reverse spin layup by Tanner Oestreich that created a 35-29 halftime advantage.
“We had that six-point lead (35-29) at the half, and our goal was to keep that,” Rudloff said. “I think they got within two or three there, but we got it back up to six going into the fourth.”
Free throws became a factor in the third period when a pair of 3s by Mickelson and another on an assist from Mickelson to Brennen Kelley brought the Knights to within 41-39. Payton Frederick made six straight from the charity stripe to ensure the Braves kept their lead at 6 points, as Battle Creek took a 45-39 edge into the game’s final eight minutes.
“That didn’t feel like a lot as good as they shoot the ball. They’re great shooters, and you know they’re going to hit one here or there, or two in a row,” Rudloff said. “You just try to weather their runs, and try to come down and answer just to hang in there.”
Mickelson scored 12 of Norfolk Catholic’s 15 points in the fourth, but the Knights were unable to string together points and could get no closer than 58-54 after a Mickelson 3 with a minute and a half left in the game, while the Braves answered those baskets with three field goals and 9 of 15 free throw shooting — including 6 of 8 in the final two minutes — to protect the lead.
“I thought Baron Buckendahl, Reece Bode and Landon Olson all did a good job of defending Mickelson, who we know can hit one right in your face or take it right to the rack,” Rudloff said. “When he did that, our bigs did a good job of helping over. It was a good job.”
Mickelson finished the game with 26 points, while Kelley added 11 for Norfolk Catholic, but the Knights made just 17 of 57 field goal attempts (30%), 7 of 26 3-point tries (27%) and 13 of 26 free throws.
“Two aggressive teams, and we didn’t hit from the line while they did,” Knights coach Kevin Manzer said. “I was just really surprised how out of sync we were; we were sharing the ball early, but we weren’t finishing, and we weren’t making the right reads. Then guys get hesitant, and it becomes kind of a one-man deal, and we’re not as strong a team when that happens.”
Manzer chose not to use the absence of the recently injured Preston Burbach, a 6-foot 5 junior who tried to play in the fourth quarter — or the injury a few weeks ago to senior Jackson Clausen--as an excuse.
“We’ve got guys who’ve played a lot of basketball; we’ve got enough depth that it shouldn’t have been as big an issue as it was,” Manzer said. “Preston’s great and does a lot of things for us, but our guys still have to step up, make plays, and produce. I thought we played hard, with good effort, but our execution just wasn’t there.”
The Knights end the season with a 14-9 record and will graduate five seniors from a team that will return nine underclassmen.
“We obviously wish we would have gone farther, but I feel like we continued to build a good foundation,” Manzer said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who will be back, so you’ve just got to hang your hat on that, and hopefully this will ignite something in the guys where they are fired up and realize that they are good, but they have to work hard to gain that extra 5 percent that can make them great.”
“The seniors are great kids with high character that showed up every day to work and that’s all you can ask,” he said. “Not all of them got to play as much as everybody would like, but they handled that well and contributed in their own ways. It’s a tough group to lose just because it was such a pleasure to see them every day.”
Battle Creek, now 13-10, will face the 19-4 Bluejays, a team that defeated the Braves 64-27 in late January.
“Pierce is going to be tough; I hope we can give them a better game than we did the first time we played them,” Rudloff said. “They’ve got (Ben) Brahmer inside, which is a tough matchup for us, but they’ll also get it out to (Chaden) Roth and (Logan) Moeller who can both hit shots or get the ball to the rim.”
C1-8 boys subdistrict
Battle Creek 14 21 10 17 -- 62
Norfolk Catholic 14 15 10 15 -- 54
Battle Creek (13-10): Payton Frederick 3-14 13-15 19, Landon Olson 1-2 0-0 2, Reece Bode 2-2 2-3 6, Tait Heimes 1-1 0-0 3, Baron Buckendahl 3-5 0-2 6, Hunter Oestreich 2-3 0-0 4, Mason Mink 4-6 0-0 8, Jace Meinke 1-2 4-6 6, Tanner Oestreich 3-5 2-4 8. Totals: 20-40 21-29 62.
Norfolk Catholic (14-9): Brennen Kelley 3-11 3-4 11, Preston Burbach 0-2 0-0 0, Ben Hammond 2-12 3-4 8, Christian Mickelson 8-23 7-10 26, Travis Kalous 1-3 0-0 3, Kade Pieper 2-3 0-6 4, Nolan Fennessy 1-1 0-2 2, Mason Timmerman 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 17-57 13-26 54.