Pekin too much for WACO
PACKWOOD — WACO used just about everything in its arsenal in an attempt to put points on the scoreboard Thursday, but host Pekin seemed to always have an answer in the Class 1A District 9 quarterfinal contest.
The Panthers held the visiting Warriors to under double digits in all four quarters and turned a 26-15 halftime lead into a 62-34 playoff victory in Packwood.
“We tried everything we had, but we couldn’t get anything that was consistent. We might catch Pekin on something for one or two trips and then we’d get shut down,” said WACO head coach Bob Hilmer, who is the all-time wins leader in Iowa boys’ basketball with 772 victories. “They were ready for everything we did. They’re a pretty good defense to begin with, but they stepped it up a notch tonight, and we had trouble getting the shots we’d like.”
The Panthers had beaten WACO in the teams’ two previous meetings this winter by a combined 10 points. Pekin head coach Ken Hutchinson agreed the difference between Thursday’s game and the first two was defensive intensity.
“We gave them a lot of open looks last time. A lot of threes they hit and a lot of jumpers they hit came from open looks, and I thought tonight we raised our level defensively and closed out on their shooters a lot better,” he said. “We got hung up on screens the first times, too … and really we contained the drive.”
After a solid first half on the defensive end, the Panthers came out firing on all cylinders in the second half and quickly stretched their lead to 20 on a 9-0 run. Pekin senior Graham Wittrock contributed five points during the stretch, and teammates Seth Jensen and Petie Clubb added one basket apiece.
The Panthers held WACO to six points in the third quarter to carry a 43-21 advantage into the fourth. Junior Cade Millikin scored the first five points for Pekin in the final period, and the Panthers stretched their lead to 58-25 before sitting their starters with two minutes remaining.
“We had a lot more energy in the second half,” Hutchinson said. “I haven’t quite figured out how to get them motivated to play as hard as they could all four quarters, and we had to kick it into that next gear once we saw an 11-point lead at halftime wasn’t near enough.”
Wittrock led the Panthers with 16 points and two assists, and Brody Long scored 10 points with nine rebounds. Clubb scored 10 points, while Millikin finished with eight points, seven assists and four steals. Jared Bond added eight points and eight boards as the Panthers turned the ball over just eight times as a team.
WACO fell behind 15-8 after the first quarter and never seemed to recover from their early shooting woes.
“[Falling behind early] doesn’t help because we’re not very strong on offense to begin with, so catch-up ball is not our forte,” said Hilmer.
The Warriors did manage to keep up with Pekin through much of the second quarter. After falling behind 17-8, they cut the deficit to 20-15 on two baskets by senior Klinton Garrett and one make by teammate Tyler Ayers, but Pekin closed the half on a 6-0 run.
“We did get some good looks early, but most of them were from the outside. They kind of took away our inside game for the most part,” Hilmer added.
Ayers and Aaron Barnhart led the Warriors with 10 and six points, respectively. Garrett and sophomores Braden Blake and Tucker Janecek provided five points apiece. WACO ends its season at 7-15 overall.
Pekin, which improves to 14-8 with the win, advances to the regional semifinals to play Keota (18-4), which topped Winfield-Mt. Union 50-42 in the adjacent quarterfinal game Thursday. The regional semifinal round will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Keota.