BRITT - They say it's hard to defeat the same team three times in a season. For 2 1/2 quarters, North Union played toe-to-toe with West Hancock looking to prove the saying.
However, the Warriors suddenly couldn't make a shot in the final 12 minutes as the Eagles surged ahead and eventually cruised to a 56-36 victory in Tuesday's Class 1A District 3 semifinal.
"The kids played their hearts out," said North Union coach Alex Fisher, whose team finishes with a 12-11 record. "It was three quarters of the best defense we've played all year. We just could never get our offense going. We missed open looks all throughout the game that we have typically made all throughout the year. 11 percent for three-point range was our worst of the season. We typically make between 7-11 3's a game. Not having Parker (Oleson) on the floor didn't help either. He is our best set shooter and would have made them defend things a little bit differently."
The loss ends the high school careers of six North Union seniors-Nathan Eaton, Trent Pedersen, Tanner Doocy, Eythan Blair, Jared Larson and Parker Oleson.
"Overall, I am extremely proud of this group and am grateful I was able to coach and be a part of this team," said Fisher. "Our seniors have helped turned the North Union Basketball Program around. We set school records for wins in a season (12) and many of the individual stat records were broken by this group of seniors. They have been playing together since fourth grade. Coach Larson (varsity assistant) coached them in AAU and joined the high school staff when they were freshmen. They all played a huge role on and off the floor for us this season and their leadership and team chemistry they brought to the program will be greatly missed."
After trailing by a point at halftime, 25-24, North Union scored the first two baskets in a quarter that both teams struggled to score. However, West Hancock caught fire and went on a 9-0 to lead 34-28 to start the final period. The Warriors twice got within six points, the last at 38-32 after a basket by Tanner Doocy. However, the Eagles pulled back offensively to force North Union out of its zone defense. When that happened, West Hancock began getting easy baskets and fouled. The Eagles scored the next 15 points to put the game away.
Meanwhile, North Union couldn't buy a basket offensively, partially due to the shot-blocking of the Eagles' 6-7 senior Seth Weiland, who finished with eight blocks on the night.
The first half was a seesaw battle with north Union taking a 10-9 lead after a basket by Pedersen to end the first quarter. A 3-pointer by Pedersen early in the second quarter gave North Union its biggest lead at 15-11.
But West Hancock's Dylan Eckels hit one 3-pointer to tie the game at 17-17 and another to give his team a 22-19 lead with 1:40 left in the first half.
North Union took back the lead briefly when Eaton hit a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left in the half. However that was too much time as Eckels, who finished 3-of-8 from beyond the arc, hit his final one of the night to give the hosts a 25-24 advantage at the break.
"We handled their pressure extremely well - only had seven turnovers," said coach Fisher. " We boxed out and rebounded well throughout the game and limited their second chance points. Limiting our turnovers and winning the rebounding game are two keys that we have every game, so the kids did their job in those respective departments."
North Union shot 30 percent (17-of-56) for the game including 11 percent (2-of-18) from 3-point range. The Warriors did not get to the free throw line.
"West Hancock did a good job of defending the perimeter and taking away our shooters," said Fisher. "It helps when they have Weiland, who is a tremendous shot blocker inside and can defend the paint on his own. We also didn't shoot a single free throw all night and we set a goal to get to the line at least 12 times a game."
West Hancock shot 36 percent (19-of-53) from the field including 29 percent (6-of-21) from 3-point range. They finished 12-of-18 from the free throw line.
Pedersen led the Warriors with nine points while Elliott Hagebock had eight, Riley Bauer had six, Eaton had five and Blair had two. Bauer finished with six of the team's 24 rebounds while Eaton had five rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot.
Weiland led West Hancock with 20 points and 14 rebounds while Eckels finished with 17 and 10 rebounds.
Of the seniors, Pedersen is a four-year letter winner that set a school record in points, rebounds and other categories.
"Trent was close to logging 32 minutes a game for us - he was just always out there making plays for us," said Fisher.
Eaton also was a four-year letter winner and is the school leader in assists, steals and three-point field goals.
"He was the type of kid who would be in the gym on a Sunday afternoon getting shots up," said Fisher. "All of his time spent in the gym has shown, he was a tremendous point guard for us the past couple of seasons.
"Parker Oleson is one of the best pure shooters in the conference," the coach said. "When Parker got an open look off a pass from his teammate, you could count on 3 points going up on the board."
On Blair, Fisher said, "If you look at stats alone, you won't see much about Eythan Blair. He wasn't a flashy scorer, nor did he pull down a ton of rebounds. But when you watch the film you notice how much he meant to our team.
"Jared was a key player for us in our back court. He came off the bench to spell the 1 or 2. Jared has a high basketball I.Q. and did a great job of playing the point or off guard position. He was an under the radar shooter for us this year and also a solid defender.
"Tanner was a versatile player for us and played some major minutes coming off the bench. He played the 2-5 positions for us and used his length and speed to make key plays," coach Fisher said.