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Boys basketball: Pioneers power past Spartans

Photo courtesy of Calli Newberry

By Calli Newberry

A big third quarter gave the Croswell-Lexington High School boys basketball team the cushion it needed to overcome the Imlay City Spartans on the road Friday night. The Pioneers walked away with a 60-51 victory, maintaining its spotless 8-0 season record. 

“We’re where we wanted to be at the end of the night. We’re in the first place. We knew they were going to give us a good effort. They’re playing well this year. They’ve got a good team and it’s their home floor,” head coach Lance Campbell said. “We found ways to make plays at the end. There’s a lot of things that we can work on, but the great thing is, we did enough to get a W.”

Cros-Lex senior guard Jake Townsend said it was a game his team “really wanted to win,” and it showed on the court as the Pioneers came out with high-pressure, full-court defense that got a 5-second call within the first minute, setting the tone for what would be a scrappy night. 

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“We were coming into their place. Sometimes the shots aren’t going to fall and we had to create things defensively, like getting steals,” Townsend said. “We knew they were going to come out aggressive and we knew we had to match their energy, I think we did a good job of that tonight.” 

Photo courtesy of Calli Newberry

Townsend led his team’s defensive effort with eight steals on the night and converted many of them offensively for 12 points. Fellow senior forward Saige Slanec proved to be a threat inside and out as he led the Pioneers with 13 points, including a pair of buckets from beyond the arc. 

“[Townsend] brings it every night…He had a ton of steals and he played really, really well,” Campbell said. “He’s a pest of defense, he’s a hound, and tonight he made a nice three when we needed it. That’s a confidence boost for him.” 

Campbell also said junior center Donovan McDonald (10 points) has also gained a lot of confidence on the court as the season’s progressed, and it showed with some key baskets Friday, like getting the first two points of the game or a quick jumper that separated the Pioneers when the Spartans crept within four. 

“He does a very nice job, he’s getting more touches, that means he’s being more aggressive,” Campbell said. “We’re looking at him more and when he does get an opportunity to score, he’s finished. He’s gaining confidence and collectively kids are gaining confidence in him and they’re getting him the rock a little more.”

The Pioneers jumped out to an early lead and extended it to 15-9 by the start of the second quarter. The two offenses maintained their back-and-forth pace for the next eight minutes, each picking up 13 points for a halftime score of 28-22. 

Photo courtesy of Calli Newberry

From there, Cros-Lex found itself on an 8-0 the scoring runs halfway through the third quarter and outscored the Spartans 22-14. The Pioneers now held a 14-point lead, 50-36, which became crucial in the fourth quarter as momentum shifted and the Spartans picked up a bundle of points from the charity stripe.

Imlay City senior guard Dominic Ljuljdjuraj made three consecutive trips to the free-throw line early on in the fourth quarter, one of which became an opportunity for four points as a technical foul was added on. He went 6-for-8, contributing to his team-leading total of 15 points on the night. 

That put a pause on the Pioneer’s offense, allowing the Spartans to chip away at score, 53-44.

“Quite honestly, if we get pressed, I think that’s one of our strengths, but tonight we didn’t handle it very well,” Campbell said. “We played into the emotion of some calls, worried more about officials at times, as was I, than playing the next play.” 

But they managed to keep their composure and seal the victory, something Townsend credits to his team’s high-pressure practices.  

“Coach likes to put us in pressure situations all the time in practice. We could’ve done a better job with it tonight, but that’s probably a different ball game if we had knocked down our free throws,” Townsend said. “It’s huge. Anytime in BWAC play, you can get a win on the road, it’s huge for us and brings momentum to the team.”

Cros-Lex will look to carry that momentum forward. Today the Pioneers take on Reese in a non-conference game against Reese before returning to BWAC play against North Branch on Thursday. Imlay City (5-4, 2-2) will take on Algonac (2-6, 1-3) Thursday night as well. 

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