ORLEANS — Even on a grand stage, the most fundamental facets of basketball can make all the difference in a championship.
While both teams hit an identical 19 field goals, the Orleans boys basketball team went 22 of 26 from the free-throw line to defeat Trinity Lutheran 67-51 in the Class A Sectional 61 final Saturday.
With the loss, the Cougars finished with an 18-6 record.
The Cougars’ sole lead came with 5:55 in the first quarter when Keegan Rebber nailed a 3-pointer to put his team up 3-2.
Daniel Horton netted a basket at 2:35 for the Cougars before the Bulldogs’ Cale Hall sunk a trey to go up 9-5.
Neither team could find much offense in the opening minutes — both squads committed three turnovers — as the Bulldogs led 11-7.
With 4:58 left in the first half, Jacob Christopher hit a 3-pointer to bring the deficit to 18-12. However, Chase Hall responded on the Bulldogs’ next possession with a shot from behind the arc to reclaim those three points.
Following Hall’s 3-pointer, the Bulldogs went on a 9-0 run to take a 30-12 lead with 2:24 remaining in the second quarter.
At halftime, the Bulldogs had amassed a 33-16 lead.
“They built that lead early with a lot of hustle plays,” Cougars coach Aaron Rudzinski said. “The balls bounced their ways a couple times and that’s about it. You can’t get behind on a team like that and expect to come back. We were down at halftime and talked about how this is where West Washington was last night against us (in the semifinals) and they came back.”
Looking for a swing in momentum following halftime, the Cougars switched to a full-court press defense to push the floor’s tempo.
The Bulldogs didn’t fall into the Cougars’ traps and went on a 8-0 run from 6:23 to 4:23 behind seven points from Steven Phillips.
In the final 1:37 of the third quarter, Jacob Schult made two field goals underneath the basket, but the Cougars trailed 47-31 heading into the final eight minutes of play.
The fourth quarter saw the Bulldogs hit 12 of 14 free throws to secure a birth into regional play.
Horton led the Cougars with 14 points and 10 rebounds and Toby VanLiew finished next with 11 points and seven boards.
Cale Hall and Phillips finished as the high men for the Bulldogs with 20 points apiece. Chase Hall added 13 points to the Bulldogs’ total.
Last year, the Cougars claimed the sectional title with a 55-34 win against the Bulldogs.
“Both Hall brothers, and Phillips, in my eyes, are the top three players — I wouldn’t expect anything less from those guys,” Rud-zinski said.
“Last year I think they might have relied on Cale Hall with their offense, and they weren’t able to find an answer for what we did. This year I think they found some more guys that learned how to step up. They’re a more multi-dimensional team from last year.”
Cougars Luke Stuckwisch, Clayton Pottschmidt, Jacob Christopher, Keenan Scifres and VanLiew will graduate from the program.
“These guys all came in my first year, as ninth-graders, and none of them were varsity players at the time,” said Rudzinski, who finished his fourth year of coaching, said. “We used those group of guys to build. We were rebuilding in those (first few) years and some of those guys got minutes kind of by default. We had talent but weren’t quite ready. They mean a lot because they kind of brought the level of play and expectations back up. It’s sad to see them go.”