SENECA – It took the Seneca Fighting Irish several years to win back the championship trophy of its own Thanksgiving Turkey Tournament, but they brought it home a year ago for the first time since 2011.
And now, they’re not about to give it up without a fight.
Th Irish used aggression at both ends of the court to defeat Newark 64-43 on Saturday night and repeat as champions of the 21st annual event.
Defensively, they made the most of their quickness and length to get hands on a lot of passes, force 20 Norsemen turnovers and hold their all-tournament choice Zach Carlson to just two points. Meanwhile, on offense, Paxton Giertz and Braden Ellis asserted themselves off the dribble and at the 3-point line, respectively, each ending up with a team-best 18 points.
Together, those aspects stopped the Norsemen and kept Seneca’s record spotless through four games this season.
“Newark moves the ball well and they’re is gonna win games defensively,” Seneca coach Russ Witte said. “They got after us, but Paxton did an outstanding job of handling it – hard to believe he’s just a sophomore, right? He’s a good one – but of all the things we did right today, the key for us was Braden Ellis hitting those 3s. With him stretching things out, now they can’t put all your pressure on one person … It took us a while to get going, but when we forced them to back the pressure off, that’s when the tide turned.
“We played Mendota last night and one area we struggled in was forcing our will upon them and getting deflections, but tonight was a much better job of that … Now we have to move forward. It’s all about what’s gonna happen tomorrow.”
After the teams combined for 0 for 10 shooting from the tip, the Irish broke it open with balance. Six players scored at least two points in the first quarter to take them from a 12-9 lead to a 29-14 advantage, capped by a Giertz drive to the bucket with 2 minutes, 39 seconds left in the second quarter.
Five points in the last 1:23 of the half from Martin – part of his game-best 23 points – got the Norsemen within 10, but that went for naught when Seneca scored 13 of the first 15 points of the third period. The last three of Ellis’s seven points in that run capped it at 42-21 with 3:56 left in the third stanza.
From there, Seneca switched into its time-killing mode and had five players score in the fourth quarter before the subs came on.
After Giertz and Ellis, Calvin Maierhofer tossed in 11 points and grabbed six rebounds on his way to an all-tourney berth. Lane Provance added 10 points and six boards and Kysen Klinker six rebounds for the Irish, who shot a solid 54.1% (26 of 48) from the field and out-caromed the Norsemen, 30-22.
Newark, which shot a respectable 42.7% from the floor, hit just 4 of 12 free throws to hamper its cause.
“Their zone is tough, they do have a lot of length and they’re very disciplined in their spots. Newark coach Kyle Anderson said. “They don’t overcommit when they shouldn’t. Our guys have to understand that you have to swing the ball a few times, then attack the gaps hard, but it’s tough to simulate that in practice then come out against a team that plays it that well.
“Seneca’s good. That Giertz kid is as good as you’re gonna get in this area with the ball in his hands and they seem to be in mid-season form right now. I’m glad we’re gonna get another chance to play them and try to redeem ourselves, but the kids played hard and I’m proud of how we played in this tournament … If you had told me before the tournament that we’d come out of it 3-1 and having played in the championship, I’d have been pretty pleased.”
Serena 61, Hall 47: The Huskers used balance to offset the hot hand of the Red Devils’ Mac Resetich, who scored all 13 of their points and half of his game-high 26 in the second quarter alone.
Serena, however, got 14 points from all-tourney pick Cam Figgins, 13 from Carson Baker, 11 from Tanner Faivre and seven points each from Richie Armour, Braxton Hart and Hunter Staton to offset his play and escape with the victory.
Mendota 48, Herscher 36: Rafa Romero locked up his spot on the all-tournament group with a team best 16 points, four of those coming in an 18-7 first quarter that started the Trojans to victory.
Isaac Guzman chipped in 10 for the winners, while freshman Tanner Jones led Herscher with 15 points.
St. Anne 88, Somonauk 56: The Bobcats couldn’t get past the duo of Jordan Davis and Fred Burton, who netted 25 and 23 points, respectively.
A 21-6 fourth-period for the Cardinals was enough to finally put away Somonauk, which was led by 22 points from Carson Bahrey. Brock Sexton added 11 points for the ‘Cats.