SENECA – For the first four minutes of the first quarter of its season opener against Mendota at the Seneca Turkey Tournament on Monday, the Seneca boys basketball team looked exactly like the flustered, young and inexperienced team that it is.
But for the last two minutes of the fourth quarter, the Fighting Irish looked like the veteran, cool game finishers they’re not.
The Fighting Irish found themselves down nine points in that frantic first half-quarter, but took advantage of the Trojans’ cold shooting and turnovers to build a 16-point advantage late in the third quarter.
That lead quickly dissipated in the final quarter under increasing pressure from Mendota’s aggressive defense.
The Trojans got within two points on a bucket by Rafa Romero with 51.8 seconds to go.
That’s when Seneca’s Zach Pfeifer stepped up with a clutch free throw and, after missing the second toss, stole the ball and laid it in to widen the lead back to five to help the Irish to a 46-40 victory.
Pfeifer finished with a team-best 18 points, and freshman Paxton Giertz added 10 to pace the Irish, who survived despite being outrebounded, 34-32, and committing 27 turnovers
Also on Monday, in the tournament opener, Herscher defeated Hall, 50-37, then Somonauk earned a running clock 65-40 victory over St. Anne.
“We just needed to take a deep breath,” Seneca coach Russ Witte said. “We settled down at about the four-minute mark of the first … Then for two, 2 1/2 quarters, we controlled every aspect of the game. Noah and Zach hit some big shots to help us get a lead, but then in the fourth, they hit a shot, we started turning the ball over and doing some uncharacteristic things team-wise and the next thing you know, it’s a game. We handed them way too much tonight, but fortunately, we got some stops and made some free throws to close it out.
“We’re just young and we’re going to see peaks and valleys and we saw a lot of those just in one game tonight, but we were able to finish things off and get the win.
A deuce and a 3-pointer from Bond led Mendota to a 9-0 edge, but a change in defense helped turn the tide and by the end of the first quarter, it was 12-10 Trojans. While MHS went cold from the field in the middle two periods (a combined 4 of 23), the balanced Irish got three huge treys from Pfeifer, the last with 3.3 seconds left in the half to put Seneca on top, 25-18.
That advantage ballooned to 36-20 on a deuce in the lane by Braden Ellis with 1:31 showing in the third.
Mendota’s pressure then took hold, forcing five Irish turnovers in the first 3:45 of the final period and 10 miscues in that quarter alone.
Coal City 51, Serena 42: Coal City was led in scoring Monday in the opening round of the Coal City Thanksgiving Tip-Off by Cason Headley with 22 points and Aiden Hansen with 16 points. Carter Garrelts chipped in with eight points, and Colin Hart added five points.
Lockport 64, Minooka 57: The Indians dropped their opening game in the WJOL Tournament. Ricky Hill led Minooka (0-1) with 18 points, four steals and four assists, while Adrian Manning scored 10 points and Trevor Hudak added nine.
Seneca 50, Midland 19: The Lady Irish (3-2, 1-0) won their Tri-County opener Monday. Seneca led 12-7 at the end of the first quarter and stretched the lead to 34-9 at halftime. Carly Greve and Kennedy Hartwig each scored nine points to lead Seneca, while Emma Smith added seven.