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EUREKA — Fieldcrest senior Brady Sanders called a Feb. 12 game at Eureka a wake-up call.
In that non-conference game, the Knights shot just 28 percent against Eureka’s zone and failed to get a single fast-break layup in a 14-point loss to the Hornets.
The awoken Knights got their revenge 10 days later.
And in a much more important game.
Fieldcrest adjusted the way it attacked Eureka’s zone and played more aggressive defense that led to several fast-break opportunities.
As a result, the No. 1-seeded Knights overcame first quarter and halftime deficits to beat No. 2-seeded Eureka 52-42 in the Class 2A Eureka Regional championship.
“Playing two times in two weeks, I think there’s a little bit of an advantage to the losing team,” Fieldcrest coach Matt Winkler said. “There’s more at stake. There’s the revenge factor.
“Tonight, we moved the ball better against their zone, we got the ball inside and got some fast-break layups. I think that was the big difference.”
The regional title is Fieldcrest’s second in a row and sixth in the last eight years.
“It’s nice,” Sanders said about winning another regional. “Last year we went to the super(-sectional). We want to take it one step further (and get to the state semifinals).”
The Knights (24-5) advance to face Rockridge at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in a Farmington Sectional semifinal. The Rockets beat Orion 57-37 in the Rockridge Regional title game led by 33 points from Ethan Happ.
“It’s awesome,” Fieldcrest senior Kyle Crowley said about winning a regional title. “I love playing with these guys. We played well. We bounced back from the last time against (Eureka). It feels great to win and we hope to keep it going in the sectional.”
The Knights bounced back against Eureka by tweaking how they used Sanders against the Hornet zone.
Winkler had Sanders flash through the zone in the high post, which gave the point guard opportunities to get to the basket or distribute to teammates for open looks.
Sanders scored three times down low in the opening quarter as the Knights took an 8-4 lead, but the Hornets responded with a 7-0 run to end the first, which was capped by a deep 3-pointer from Jared McCunn with 4.6 seconds left to give Eureka an 11-8 lead.
The Hornets carried the momentum into the second quarter as they extended their advantage to 17-8 before back-to-back 3-pointers by Jackson Puetz and Crowley halted the Hornet run.
Fieldcrest pulled within a point at halftime at 25-24 when Puetz nailed a 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds remaining.
“We kept our composure and did not let (the nine-point deficit) get to us,” said Crowley, who scored eight of his 12 points in the second quarter. “We tried to stay aggressive offensively. We knocked down a few shots. We ended the first half great and it gave us momentum.”
After halftime, the Knights clamped down defensively and took the lead for good.
Fieldcrest limited Eureka to just four points on 2-of-6 shooting in the third while forcing three turnovers in nine possessions.
“We really took it upon ourselves to step up defensively,” Winkler said. “We pressured the ball and get in the passing lanes and got some layups tonight. We didn’t do that last time. That was a big difference.”
Senior Nick Panzica drained a 3-pointer to give the Knights a 27-25 lead — their first advantage since the first quarter — with 6:53 left in the third, and Sanders put Fieldcrest ahead for good with a three-point play with 3:50 left in the third.
The Knights went up by eight early in the fourth quarter and sank 7-of-9 free throws in the final 1:03 to secure the title.
Sanders led the Knights, who shot 58.1 percent (18-of-31), with a game-high 17 points.
“I’m really happy for these guys and their hard work,” Winkler said. “We lost five of our top six (from last year) and here we are 24-5 and regional champs again. It never gets old.”
Note: Fieldcrest’s Ryan Barth hit 10-of-15 3-pointers to advance to the sectional in the 3-point contest.
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.
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