ROYAL CENTER — Pioneer had an historic win over Logansport in boys basketball on Tuesday night.
Despite having a new-look team after losses to graduation and playing in a season opener, the Panthers knocked off the defending champion Berries 45-44 in a Logansport Savings Bank Invitational game at the Cage.
It was the Panthers’ second ever win over the Berries in boys basketball and first since a 1981 sectional game. They improved to 2-29 against them all-time going up against a school that historically has over four times the enrollment size. Royal Center was 3-30 all-time in the pre-consolidation days.
It was the first time Logansport played a boys basketball game in Royal Center since winning a sectional title there in 1926. This contest 95 years later did not go as well for the Berries.
It was an unexpected win for the Panthers in that they graduated three starters from last year’s 9-12 team. Usually a slow starting team due to football, the Panthers started the season 1-0 for the first time since the 2015-16 season.
“We really had no idea,” Pioneer coach Darren McKaig said. “We had been playing better and I felt like they were playing really well as a team. I had a lot of the same guys on my JV team a couple years ago and they’re so unselfish and they’re just willing to find the open guy, nobody’s trying to be a star out there and I think it’s really going to help us get better shots this year.
“But Oscar Solano was amazing, 17 points and a bunch of rebounds. After losing [Hunter] Klepinger last year, we needed another big guy in the middle and he’s really stepped up. Drew [McKaig] finally got a couple shots to fall. He’s still streaky but I think as the year goes on he’s going to be a major threat for us. And Gavin Clem actually hit 10 3s in our scrimmage and had 39 points against Attica, and he was quarantined and couldn’t even play for us tonight. So he’s another 3-point shooter we’re going to find open this year. But I’m so proud of our defensive effort. We’re going to try to hold the other team under 40 and see how it works out.”
It was a close game throughout. Logan led 10-8 after one quarter and Pioneer led 17-13 at halftime. Pioneer led 30-25 after three.
Logan opened the fourth quarter with a 7-0 run to retake the lead. There would be four ties and eight lead changes in the final stanza.
Solano’s bucket on a press breaker gave the Panthers a 44-41 lead with 1:00 left. Noah Lange answered with a deep 3 from the left wing to tie the game with 40 seconds remaining. The Panthers called timeout with 11 seconds left. They got the ball to Solano on the move in the post and he drew a foul. He hit 1 of 2 free throws with 9 seconds left to make it 45-44. The Berries called timeout with 7 seconds left.
They got the ball to Lange in the right corner. He drove and got the ball to Caleb Crook in the paint. Crook’s shot off the glass from about 8 feet was just off as the buzzer sounded. The Berries argued for a foul afterwards. McKaig thought it was a good no-call.
“I think they would have called that on either end. I think they would have let that go at the end of the game. That’s typically how they officiate that,” he said. “You’ve got to play through contact at the end of the game, so I felt it was pretty fair.”
Solano finished with 17 points, six boards and four steals.
“We played great, great rebounding, great defense,” he said. “We moved the ball well, better than last year honestly. We just played hard and they couldn’t score on the defense that we had, great 2-3.”
Drew McKaig had 14 points and three steals.
“When it came down to the wire, we hit free throws, we got steals, we just outplayed them in the end,” he said.
Caleb Sweet added five points and Jacob Zeigler added four for Pioneer.
Lange led the Berries with 14 points. Crook had 10 and Isaac Russell had eight. Izak Mock added four points and eight boards.
The Panthers won the turnover battle 20-11.
“We got a lot of turnovers out of our zone last year but losing Ezra and Addai [Lewellen], we didn’t know if we still had the quickness to create those turnovers and those guys proved themselves tonight,” coach McKaig said. “2-3 zone, but it’s got a lot of rules. Sometimes it shifts into a 2-1-2 and things like that.”
McKaig added it was nice to get to play Logansport at home.
“The last eight years we have played really well at home. The little Cage, we’re used to shooting here and other teams aren’t. We go to the Berry Bowl and we can’t hit a shot there but here at our low ceiling we shoot really well.”
Lewis Cass travels to Caston for tonight’s semifinal. The consolation and final will be held Friday night at the Berry Bowl. Logan plays in the 6:30 consolation and Pioneer plays in the 8 o’clock championship game.