By JOSH SIGLER
BUNKER HILL —
Several Mid-Indiana Conference boys basketball squads got back in the race for a league title Friday night, and the Maconaquah Braves are to thank.
Maconaquah and Western jockeyed for position for the first three and a half quarters here Friday night before the Braves took the lead for good with four minutes to play and held on for dear life in a 60-58 win over the Panthers.
The entire contest was played within a seven-point margin, including a six-point margin in the final eight minutes.
The Braves stretched the lead to 55-49 with 1:03 to play, but Western reeled Maconaquah in over the next 53 seconds led by Des Balentine, who hit a 3-pointer, a pair of free throws and a driving floater on successive possessions before Ronnie Smith’s putback pulled Western within one at 59-58 with 10 seconds left.
The Panthers fouled K.J. Walton on the ensuing inbound play, and Walton managed to hit one of the double bonus, marking the third time in as many trips that the Braves managed to hit just one of their two charity tosses.
Trailing 60-58 with five seconds to play, Balentine drove the lane and dished off to Smith at the block, who had his contested shot roll off the rim. The ball was batted around with no one being able to corral it as the final buzzer sounded.
“It feels like I played four quarters. I’m exhausted,” Maconaquah coach Andy Steele said. “I told the kids ‘This is a time where we can back down or fight through the adversity.’ I put a quote up [Friday] about staring adversity in the face and punching it right in the face. I thought we did that.
“We’re an athletic group. We play together. I think we were one of the [conference] favorites coming into the season, and hopefully we proved that [Friday] night.”
The win for Maconaquah left Peru as the only unbeaten team in MIC play. The Bengal Tigers beat Taylor on Friday night to move to 3-0 in league play. Maconaquah, Western and Hamilton Heights all sit within striking distance at 3-1.
Maconaquah led by as many as seven on two occasions in the first quarter before taking a 16-14 lead into the second period. Fourteen of the Braves’ points in the first stanza came on second-chance opportunities.
“We had some execution issues early in the first half and dug ourselves a little bit of a hole there,” Western coach Bart Miller said. “We just never really covered. Hats off to Maconaquah. They came out ready to play and executed better than we did [Friday] night.”
The Braves (8-4) took a 30-27 lead into intermission, and led the entire third quarter before Western’s Evan Warden was fouled shooting a 3-pointer with three seconds left and hit all three freebies, giving the Panthers a 45-44 lead headed into the fourth.
Warden’s long rebound and breakaway layup helped Western (8-5) surge ahead momentarily at 49-46.
Back-to-back post buckets by Micah Pier helped the Braves pull ahead for good at 51-49.
Western entered the fourth quarter with just six turnovers, but committed six more over the final eight minutes, hindering the comeback attempt.
Jordan Bradley overcame foul trouble to lead Maconaquah with 16 points and six rebounds. Pier added 15 points and 11 boards, while Adam Harts chipped in 13 points for the Braves, who played the second half without point guard Trevor Hagan, who left with a shoulder injury in the second quarter and did not return.
Senior Austin Townsend led Western with 21 points and 15 rebounds, but only attempted one field goal and didn’t score in the fourth quarter. Warden added 16 points and Balentine chipped in 15.