COAL CITY — The biggest strength of Coal City’s state semifinal football team was its tenacious defense, and many of those same defenders from the gridiron displayed that same grit on the hardwood, particularly early on, as the Coalers got out to a big lead early and held on down the stretch for a 65-60 home victory against Bradley-Bourbonnais.
Four turnovers in the first quarter by the Boilers led to nine Coalers points, and the home team also converted two successful and-one plays to ignite themselves and the crowd as they opened the game on an 11-0 run and led 20-7 at the end of the quarter.
“I thought today was one of our better defensive games,” Coalers forward Austin Pullara said. “We forced a lot of turnovers, and it was a spark early.”
Pullara was successful on one of the Coalers’ old-fashioned three-point plays early on, with Jack Bunton responsible for the other.
Coalers coach Glenn Pacek said those finishes not only added extra points but added confidence to his team’s offense.
“Getting a three-point play the old-fashioned way, especially as a strong, physical team, it energizes us,” Pacek said. “And you make a couple of layups, all of the sudden you have confidence and the 3-point shot starts going down.”
The Coalers went 4 for 9 from the 3-point line in the first half, but thanks to a scorching performance off the bench from guard Kendall Lakes and his three first-half 3-pointers, the Boilers were true on 4-of-7 shooting from downtown and began to creep back in the game, taking a 35-26 deficit to the locker room.
That second-quarter surge was a sign of things to come for the Boilers, who turned up the heat defensively and held the Coalers to an 8-for-22 performance from the field in the second half, and Gabe Renchen found a rhythm after taking just one shot in the first half and scored 14 points in the second half.
The combination of the increased intensity on the defensive end and Renchen’s outburst, as well as Owen Freeman’s 4-for-4 second half, allowed the Boilers to erase their early double-digit deficit and cut it to as low as 1 point on several occassions, as late as with 1:22 left after Renchen’s third 3-pointer of the half.
Down the stretch, Kyle Burch went 4 for 4 from the free-throw line in a game that saw the Coalers attempt 24 free throws to the Boilers’ four, and Pullara scooped a steal in the closing seconds to allow the Coalers to prevail.
Burch was the first to admit he isn’t the best free-throw shooter on his team, but that didn’t matter when he took to the stripe late in Tuesday’s game.
“I’m normally not too reliable [from the free-throw line], but I didn’t think about that,” Burch said. “I went up and did what I had to do.
“After I made the first couple, I knew [the last two] were going in.”
Boilers coach Alex Renchen said after falling behind early, his boys just couldn’t make quite enough magic happen to complete their comeback.
“We got off to a slow start and could not create enough breaks to grab the lead, [and] they took advantage of us with their physicality,” the elder Renchen said. “We need to execute better to win a possession on each end of the floor.
“We need to be physically and mentally tougher to overcome adversity,” he added. “That being said, give [Coal City] the credit they deserve for finding a way to win.”
Bunton led all scorers with 21 points and added a pair of boards. Pullara had 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists and four steals. Hutchings had 10 points, eight assists, a rebound and three steals. Jarod Garrelts also scored 10 points and added six boards, two assists, two steals and three blocks.
Gabe Renchen had 16 points, five rebounds, six assists and a steal to pace the Boilers. Lake had 13 points, two rebounds and two assists. Mark Robinson chipped in 10 points, three rebounds, a steal and a block. Freeman had eight points, seven boards and four assists.
The 7-7 Coalers will travel to Wilmington at 6:30 p.m. Friday. The Boilers, who fell to 9-4 on Tuesday, will have their hands full at a mighty Lincoln-Way East squad at 7 p.m. Friday.