Eagles finish regular season on high note
ARLINGTON >> Having a star or two on your team is great, but the championship-caliber teams have balance as well, hopefully negating an off-day from your first or second option.
The Arlington boys basketball team has had their stars do their thing all year, but nights like Friday are how teams win the big prize.
Led by Nathan Mattison's 15 points, Arlington had six players score at least seven points in a 63-42 Senior Night and regular-season ending victory over Black River.
"We're really balanced, more so than any other year," said senior Austin Hawley. "We've had a bunch of players over 15 [in a game], so we're good in that area. That's going to help us in the playoffs, it's good to know we can go inside for buckets or outside."
Black River (2-18) hung around for most of the first three quarters, trailing only 42-30 heading into the fourth on the strength of Drew Schoenberger's game-high 16 points. In the final frame, however, the Eagles started to match the tempo that coach Chris Taft wants, leading to some higher percentage shots.
Keyshawn King, who had eight points, started the fourth with a three-point play the hard way, then Austin Hawley — the other Eagle in double digits on the night with 10 — hit a floater in the lane to make it 47-30.
Hawley scored eight of his 10 points in the second half, when most of the Eagles' damage was done.
"It's crucial [to make shots] against a zone, when Lucas [Stroffoleno] and Alex [Paustian] are hitting shots, that opens it up for Nate or Keyshawn or Brandon."
The Presidents tried to mount a last charge, but they were off the mark on shots from the outside, and threes from Brandon Gamble (seven points) and Jared Lacoste (seven points) helped the Eagles pull away.
"We didn't play really good in the first half, we wanted to come out in the second half and make a run, and that starts with defense," Hawley said. "We needed to get some stops and get in transition and we could push the lead out."
In the first half, Arlington struggled to find its footing, but used its athleticism to take a 15-8 lead after the first. In the second, Black River pulled within a basket, but the Eagles secured its advantage and lifted it to 10 at the break, at 26-16.
"It's a team we beat early in the year and we might have looked ahead a little," Taft said. "Sometimes we get in cruise control and that's on me, I have to pull it out of them, that's my job. I told them, this is Senior night, you only have one more guaranteed game."
Arlington did a nice job on the boards as well, allowing only one shot on defense and keeping possessions alive on offense. Hawley and Mattison each had eight boards, while King added seven. Gamble also grabbed five rebounds.
"Nate has wide shoulders to carry us but we have to make sure they're sturdy," Taft said. "He's blossoming here the last bit, there's just more confidence to step up there and hit the shot."
The Eagles finish the year 15-5 and should be the No. 3 seed in the Division IV playdowns when the seeds are announced early next week.
"It's good to have momentum building for the playoffs, we're keeping our eye on the prize," Hawley said. "It's great to get rolling into the playoffs."
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