By PETER FOURNIER
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rincon Valley Christian captured its third-straight North Central League II boys basketball title in a 53-44 thriller over St. Vincent on Friday night.
The Eagles (24-3, 14-0) went undefeated in NCL II play for the first time under coach Darren Nelson, who has led the team to a 39-2 mark in league play during his tenure.
“It’s a really good feeling,” Nelson said. “It’s so hard to do. Fourteen times to come out on top and getting tested … It’s a testament to how hard these guys work and how much they pull for each other. It’s difficult to do so it’s an awesome feeling. I’m so happy for the guys.”
Rincon Valley may have won by nine points, but they were trailing by one with 3:45 left in the fourth quarter. It was the Mustangs’ second lead of the game and the first since the opening minutes.
“I got nervous for sure,” Nelson said.
Nelson called time out, and settled whatever nerves his squad may have had, as Paul Meihaus’ runner in the lane put the Eagles back ahead by a point. James Leng followed that with a basket, part of a 7-0 run for Rincon Valley.
“We didn’t pick up on defense right when we took that lead,” St. Vincent coach Lance Phillips said. “We just kind of lost our head a little bit. Meihaus went coast-to-coast and scored again.”
The Mustangs would trim the deficit to five in the closing minutes, but panic appeared to set in by that time.
“When we got down to the last minute, our shot selection wasn’t really good,” Nelson said. “You can’t foul a team like this to keep possession, because they’re going to make 90 percent, and they did.”
Evan Knight led St. Vincent with 30 points, most of them coming from behind the arc.
“It was a big game. I knew I had to step up,” Knight said. “I’m a senior. I’m a captain. I know I had to step and I know I had to play well for us to win.”
Knight agreed with Phillips’ assessment of how the Mustangs played the final few minutes.
“They’re a great team and if they get the ball they’re most likely going to score,” Knight said.
“What we should have done is we should have done is wasted time, take time off the clock, try and shorten the game and we just didn’t do that. We forced up a couple of bad shots.”
Zacchaeus Dance led the Eagles with 13 points.
“If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be anywhere close to where we are at,” Nelson said.
Dance said finishing league undefeated on senior night was amazing.
“It feels great,” he said.
“It’s something we’ve been working hard towards all year. Every day in the gym, we say we have to do something that the other guys aren’t.”
Meihaus finished with 11 points and Cavin Hawkins finished with 12.
Garrett Robert had seven points, 11 rebounds and four assists.