DWIGHT - Two key stretches proved to be Earlville’s undoing against Grant Park during night three of the 10th Annual Route 17 Thanksgiving Classic.
With the Red Raiders up six after one quarter of play, the Dragons owned the second stanza, outscoring the locals by 13 points.
Then as Earlville pulled to within one tally with 3:45 left to contest, Grant Park raced away from the locals once again down the stretch to come away with a 67-53 victory that kept the Red Raiders (0-3) winless so far at the tournament, while the Dragons (1-2) earned their first victory.
“Those lapses where we let them outscore us tonight, and especially the one after we had gotten back so close late in the game, really hurt us,” said Earlville coach Gerald Fruit. “Add to that their big kid — who we knew was going to be tough — really turned out to be the main factors in not getting a win this evening.”
That “big kid” is Grant Park’s 6-foot-6 junior center John Kveck, who registered a double-double with game-high totals of 23 points and 13 rebounds as the Dragons shot a red-hot 24 of 49 (49%) from the field on the night. Kveck cashed in primarily on high-percentage shots in the low post. Grant Park also our rebounded Earlville 37-19, as Kveck was dominant.
“He has worked hard, and this is really his first year playing varsity for us, with his fundamentals in the post starting to show great strides,” said GPHS coach Matt Russell. “He was a difference-maker for us tonight, but give credit to Earlville and Coach Fruit.
“We had to make some big runs at them tonight in order to get the win.”
The Raiders received a team-leading 15 points, all off 3-point field goals, from senior Jeremy Weymouth, as Earlville shot a respectable 20 of 48 (42%) from the floor. Sophomores Griffin Cook and Ryan Browder added 13 and 11 tallies, respectively, while senior Bryar Keller chipped in with nine markers as the Raiders started off strong.
Browder paved the way early — scoring seven and Cook six — as Earlville took an 18-12 lead after one period of play. Weymouth drained his first 3-ball from the top-of-the-key to give the locals an early advantage.
But Kveck started to dominate in the paint, posting eight points in the second period along with seven tallies from junior guard Rylan Heldt (12 points) as Grant Park outdistanced Earlville 23-10 in the second stanza to take a 35-28 lead into the locker room at the half.
Weymouth caught fire in the third quarter, nailing a trio of 3-point attempts, but Kveck was equal to the task, scoring nine points of his own as the two ballclubs fought to a 13-13 stalemate. The Dragons were still ahead 48-41 with eight minutes to go.
“Jeremy (Weymouth) was lights out with his 3-pointers tonight, especially in the third quarter,” Fruit said. “He’s not our go-to guy normally, but he really kept us in the game and we still had a good chance in the fourth.”
The Raiders tallied the first six points of the final frame to close within one at 48-47 after Keller’s layup at 3:45. But Grant Park senior guard Sawyer Loitz (13 points, seven rebounds) scored nine points down the stretch to help the Dragons go on a 19-6 run to close out the ballgame.
Earlville will now face Ridgeview (0-3) at Woodland in the seventh-place contest to end its tournament. Game time is set for 1:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Grant Park will take on Woodland (1-2) in the fifth-place matchup at approximately 3 p.m.
“We’ll be ready to go Saturday even though tonight’s loss was tough,” Fruit said. “We’re still hungry to get a victory in this tournament, and we’re never going to give up, that’s for sure.”