Pioneer wins its 'championship game' against Saline 56-50 but falls short of title
Joseph Tobianski | AnnArbor.com
With a share of the Southeastern Conference Red Division title in the balance, the Pioneers needed not only to beat Saline, but for Huron to beat league leading Bedford for the cross town rivals to be part of a three-way tie for the SEC Red championship.
Pioneer took care of its business with a 56-50 win, but with Huron losing 53-50 to Bedford, it had to settle for second place.
“It was a very weird feeling rooting for Huron tonight,” joked Pioneer coach Rex Stanczak shortly after learning of the Bedford win. “All we could control was what we did against Saline, so we said ‘This is our league championship game.’ It may or may not work out, but we have to play it as such.
“I thought the guys for the most part played hard. We didn’t always play well tonight, but we played hard.”
Ethan Spencer, who led all scorers with 18 points, said he and his teammates tried not to worry too much about something that was outside of their control.
“We were just happy to finish strong. We knew today that we had to come out here and handle what we could handle,” Spencer said. “Everything else would just happen.”
Spencer put an early damper on Saline’s senior night festivities, scoring nine of Pioneer’s first 11 points. Spencer was able to take advantage of a size mismatch as Saline went with a small lineup early in order to start all of its seniors. Saline’s 6-6, 230 pound junior big man Max Recknagel started on the bench and guard Reece Dils was on Spencer.
Spencer was able to get to the hoop and work with relative ease in the post on the smaller Dils and was able to bait Dils into two fouls as well, which put him on the bench for most of the first half.
“It was a senior night decision and it was a poor senior night decision,” Saline coach Eric Williams said afterward. “I thought that we could pose some match up issues by going small like that, and we did on the offensive end, but it was kind of like pick your poison (on the defensive end)."
“Eric did what you gotta do as a coach, he started seniors on senior night and that probably hurt them a little bit early,” Stanczak said. “As soon as we saw Reece was guarding Ethan we said we gotta get the ball inside to Ethan. Fortunately, it worked out as well as it could.”
Despite the foul trouble to its leading scorer, Saline only trailed 34-28 at halftime, thanks in large part to the slashing of Gabriel Becton who had six of his eight points in the first quarter.
“The guy that really surprised us tonight was (Becton) he was getting past us off the dribble and creating some problems there, so I give Saline a lot of credit,” Stanczak said.
Joseph Tobianski | AnnArbor.com
Pioneer (15-4, 10-2 SEC Red) stayed comfortably ahead for most of the second half, and led 49-42 with four minutes, 30 seconds left. But Saline (9-10, 3-9 SEC Red) started feeding Recknagel down low and Pioneer had no answer for the powerful big man.
Recknagel scored on three straight possessions and gave Saline a 50-49 lead after with a basket with 1:59 left in the game. He would finish with a team-high 14 points.
It was Saline's first lead since early in the second quarter.
But after a timeout, Spencer gave Pioneer the lead back after finishing on a backdoor cut play and Pioneer scored the game’s final seven points.
“We called a time out and I really let ‘em have it in the timeout and challenged them and we finished the game seven nothing after that, so I’m really pround of the kids for stepping up when the game was on the line,” Stanczak said.