ELROY — In recent years, Necedah has been a perennial thorn in Royall’s side. But this time around, they had an answer for their conference foe.
The Panthers (15-2 overall, 8-2 Scenic Bluffs) gained a measure of redemption with a 55-46 win over Necedah (12-5, 7-3) in a Scenic Bluffs Conference clash Tuesday, Feb. 6 at Royall High School. One of Royall’s two losses on the season came in a 41-30 road loss to the Cardinals on Dec. 21.
The Panthers entered the game having lost four straight and eight of their last nine games against Necedah. But Tuesday night, Royall used a better offensive performance and a quicker tempo to solve Necedah’s stifling 1-3-1 defense and extend its winning streak to nine games.
“We wanted to make sure we push up. When they set up in their 1-3-1, they’re tough,” said Royall head coach Scott Uppena. “They cover lanes well, they’re long, they’re lanky, they’re athletic — so they run in very, very well. The idea was, when we get an opportunity to transition, we’d push the ball as fast as we can so they can’t set up their 1-3-1.”
The Cardinals stormed out of the gates on their way to an early 12-4 lead, but the Panthers responded with a 14-1 run of their own to pull ahead 18-13.
Necedah finally snapped its lengthy dry spell on offense when senior guard Miles Saylor and sophomore guard Jaron Murphy splashed threes on back-to-back possessions as part of an 8-0 run. However, Royall again responded by scoring the final seven points of the half to take a 25-21 lead into the locker room.
The Panthers picked up right where they left off to start the second half, building their lead up to 37-25. Between the end of the first half and start of the second, they used a 19-4 run to pull ahead by 12.
The Cardinals chipped away and whittled the deficit down to five on a couple of occasions, but Royall limited its mistakes, made enough defensive stops and sunk enough baskets down the stretch to keep Necedah at bay and hold on for the nine-point win.
Nevertheless, Uppena was not totally convinced the game was in hand until the waning seconds of the game.
“I never felt we were in control of the game to the point where the game was going to be over,” he said. “Even with nine seconds left, they were still going through their defensive stuff and trying to get stops. Those our good lessons on how to handle end-of-game situations.”
On the other hand, Necedah head coach Kris Saylor didn’t think his team played consistently enough throughout the night and ran out of gas during its comeback bid toward the end of the game.
“I didn’t think we moved as well tonight,” Saylor said. “I thought we looked a little sluggish and I didn’t think we defended as well as we’d like to defend.”
“We missed some easy shots early and just never got into a rhythm on offense. We had five layups we missed in the first half and that comes back to haunt you when two good teams get together. We just never got into a rhythm and we looked tired down the stretch in the second half. Just didn’t put it together tonight.”
Royall’s win was especially impressive given the fact it continues to be without starting forward Tristan Welchlin, who has missed the past couple weeks due to a bout with mono. Junior guard Dane Hyer is stepping up big in Welchlin’s absence to provide a steady presence in the post. Hyer himself was sidelined the first couple weeks of the season with an ankle injury.
But no matter what obstacle is thrown at them, the Panthers seem to roll right along without missing a beat.
“We kind of have a philosophy that when someone goes down — whether it’s injury or sickness or whether it’s all the other intangibles that are out there as far as things that can take kids out of games — the next person has to step up,” Uppena said. “Luckily, we’re deep enough that guys can plug in and step into roles, and Dane Hyer has been that kid.”
Uppena hopes Welchlin will be back for the postseason, but stressed that they won’t put basketball ahead of his health.
Senior guard Jaydyn Enzenbacher and Hyer led the way for Royall with 17 and 14 points, respectively. Saylor finished with 16 points and Murphy added 12 points for the Cardinals.
Saylor’s 16 points moved him to 1,320 for his career, leaving him just five points shy of Dave Swinehart’s Necedah school record of 1,325. Saylor will have a shot to break the record at home when the Cardinals take on the Hillsboro Tigers (10-8, 5-5) Friday, Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, Royall will look to push its winning streak to 10 and avenge its other loss of the season when it hits the road for a tough test against the Bangor Cardinals (15-1, 10-0), the top-ranked Division 5 team in Wisconsin, Friday, Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m.