GOESSEL — From the opening tip to midway through the fourth quarter, Wheat State League foes Little River and Elyria Christian played a back-and-forth contest in the opening round of the Goessel Bluebird Classic.
Little River pulled away in the fourth quarter to secure a 37-26 victory, improving to 2-0 in the process, but the Eagles made them work for every bucket.
Elyria, now 0-2, has opened the season with competitive losses to traditionally-tough teams in Moundridge and Little River. The Eagles struggled against Little River’s full-court press, but got better as the game progressed.
However, Little River was able to force Elyria into 21 turnovers which was a big key in this game.
“Little River is a great defensive team,” Elyria head coach Greg Fields said. “I feel like we did about as good as we could against their pressure. As we got more tired we began to get more careless with the basketball.”
A Connie Schott steal and layup gave Elyria a 5-2 lead which they held until Emma McBride drilled a 3-pointer to tie the game. Little River’s Mekenzie Renken made a layup with 25 seconds remaining to tie the game at eight entering the second quarter.
Little River maintained a one-possession lead for most of the second quarter. McBride hit a layup with 19 seconds to give Little River a 16-13 lead at halftime.
The third quarter was as tight as the first two, but a Riley Bruce layup late in the quarter put Little River up 22-17 entering the fourth. McBride nailed a 3 with 4:09 remaining to give Little River its largest lead of the game at 29-19.
Elyria fought back as Schott went coast to coast for a layup and KiLynn Starburg made a late 3, but Little River kept the Eagles at arms length and held on for an 11-point win.
Little River head coach Trey Look was impressed with Elyria and believes they are much improved from last season.
“They are young, but they work very hard,” Look said. “They’re an aggressive team, they rebound hard, and they run their stuff pretty methodically.”
Against an aggressive defense like Elyria, Look was pleased to get the win.
“I’m proud of my girls,” Look said. “They got the lead and then kept it, and once they extended the lead they did the things we needed to do. We made some great plays down the stretch.”
Schott had her second straight game with double-digit points and led Elyria with 11. Kylee Penner also added nine.
“Up against a very physical and talented Little River team tonight, our girls needed to bring a lot more energy than we did,” Fields said. “I felt like we were a little sluggish on both sides of the ball, and that will never work against a well-coached team like what we faced.”
Little River is back in action on Tuesday against Canton-Galva at 4 p.m. in Goessel. Elyria has a few extra days of break until the Eagles face Canton-Galva on Friday at 4 p.m. in Goessel.