PRINCETON – Bureau Valley had top-seeded Seneca on the ropes, but couldn’t deliver the knock-out punch.
The Storm battled all the way back from a 19-point halftime deficit to tie the game in the fourth quarter, but a timely five-point play from the Fighting Irish ended the comeback bid and lifted them to a 59-54 victory in Friday’s Class 2A regional title game at Prouty Gym in Princeton.
The rare five-point play came on a designed play to get Seneca’s Conlan Callahan an open three. Callahan swished the three from the baseline and Alex Bott was fouled by Josh Mead under the hoop while battling for rebound position. Bott made both free throws with 3:16 left in the game and the Irish never trailed after that.
“One play kind ofturned a lot of things differently,” BV coach Jason Marquis said. “We dug ourselves in a hole and it took a lot of energy and a lot of emotion to climb yourself out of that.”
“That (sequence) was huge,” Seneca coach Russell Witte said.“That got us settled down a little bit. We’re fortunate. That’s really all I can say. (Bureau Valley) kicked our butts in the second half.”
The comeback started with the Stor m (20-12) coming out ofthe half on an 11-2 run in the first three minutes. A three-pointer from ParkerNeuhalfen and a layup from Blake Balensiefen off a feed from Mead made it 34-24. The Storm had four field goals during that run, matching their entiretotal of made baskets in the first half.
Seneca (24-5) shot themselves in the foot with 10 turnovers in the quarter, their last of the third quarter resulting in a steal and layup from Ryan Young to get BV within 39-33 entering the final eight minutes. Inall, the Storm outscored the Irish 20-7 in the third.
"We knew we had to come out in the second half and punchthem back,” said Young, who finished with 12 points in the game. “They punchedus in the first half and that’s what we did. We came out and ran our offensebetter than we ever had this season.”
The Irish momentarily increased their lead back to nineafter a three-point play from Callahan early in the fourth quarter, but theStorm went on another big run after that.
Balensiefen got it started with a put-back and then threestraight hoops from Neuhalfen, the last tally being an and-one, capped a 9-0 run to tie the game at 44 with 3:31 remaining in the game.
With all the momentum in the gym on BV’s side, that’s when Callahan hit the much-needed three for the Irish and Bott hit both free-throws to complete the five-point play.
Seneca made just enough free-throws (6-11) the rest of theway as the Storm kept fighting until the final buzzer, getting a couple of three’s from Young in the final 15 seconds to keep it close.
Marquis said he told assistant coach Preston Jones before thegame that if it was tied in the fourth quarter one play was going to make a difference. Unfortunately, for the Storm that play came from the Irish.
“The effort they put forth to get back i nto the game against a very good Seneca team, one that will do well I’m sure going forward, I couldn’tbe more proud,” Marquis said. “A comeback like that is a testament to the 15 individuals that we have on this squad. I’m not surprised they came back.”
In the first half, Marquis felt his team was a little “shell-shocked” as they fell behind 15-8 after the first quarter and 32-13 at halftime. Seneca had a buzzer-beater at the end of each quarter, a three from Austin Applebee at the end of the first and a three-point play from Callahan in the second.
“Probably as good of a half you’ll see defensively on our part,” Witte said about his team’s first half performance. “Second half we knew Bureau Valley was going to play hard. That’s been their MO. We knew they weren’t going to quit so I credit (Marquis) and their kids for playing hard. They had us on our heels and got us into a little foul trouble.”
Callahan had a team-high 19 points for Seneca who will play Three Rivers North champ Sterling Newman in the Bureau Valley Sectional on Wednesday night, a rematch from last year when the Comets defeated the Irish.
Neuhalfen led the Storm with 20 points.
*Notes; Princeton's Garrett Duffin and Hall's Austin Schmitt each made 10 of 15 attempts and BV's Parker Neuhalfen and Prophetstown's Ethan Howard each made eight to advance in the Three-Point Showdown before Friday's game.