For The Daily Reporter
SHENANDOAH — Four minutes.
That was the difference between a first-round win in the Class 2A Sectional 42 tournament for the Eastern Hancock Royals.
Facing a much faster and athletic Indianapolis Howe Hornets team, the first four minutes of the contest proved to be deadly for Eastern Hancock, who found themselves down 14-0.
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“When you don’t play that type of athleticism often, you spend four minutes trying to get used to the style of play. It took us some time, and we competed well. You can’t simulate Howe’s speed or athleticism in practice,” said Eastern Hancock coach Aaron Spaulding moments after watching his squad’s season end with a 68-53 loss.
The setback dropped the Royals to 7-16 on the season but showed Spaulding just how much progress his team made during the season.
Spaulding was quick to note how Howe defeated Eastern Hancock 87-53 in the third game of the regular season.
With their second win this year against the Royals, Howe (18-7) advanced to the sectional semifinals to take on Knightstown (11-9) at 6 p.m. Friday.
“It shows the strides these kids made. I am proud of the kids. They kept playing and competed,” Spaulding said. “Tonight shows just how much better they have gotten. You always want to win more games than you lose, but we definitely fought hard and got better this season.”
After finding themselves down 14-0 to the Hornets, Eastern Hancock cracked the scoreboard with a 3-pointer from Addison True, but it was too little, too late as the Royals trailed 24-10 after the first quarter.
The Royals refused to go away quietly in the second quarter, getting a key 3-pointer by senior Ryan Speas, who finished with 12 points in his final game, to cut the deficit to six points midway through the frame.
However, the Hornets cruised to a 36-24 halftime advantage.
Howe maintained a double-digit advantage for most of the third quarter until Speas connected, cutting the deficit to 39-34. But that would be as close as Eastern Hancock would get.
Howe’s Brian Warren twice found a wide open Tony Hopkins under the basket for back-to-back scores, giving Howe all the momentum heading into the final quarter.
All season long, Eastern Hancock had the capability of drilling shots behind the 3-point arc, often from way behind the arc, but the Royals struggled at times Tuesday to find their range.
“Sometimes we settled for threes a little too quick. The thing about that though is if you make them, it’s a great shot, and if you don’t, then it’s not a good shot. We wanted to get great shots tonight,” Spaulding said. “We had shots at times to get in the game, but we needed them to make some mistakes, and they didn’t.”
Despite the loss, Spaulding took stock in the fact that Eastern Hancock will be better in the future as a result of this season, which featured eight losses by 10 points or loss, including six by four points or less.
“For a lot of these kids, this was their first action in the sectionals, and, hopefully, we will be better because of it,” he said. “The team made a lot of strides this year. The seniors gave great leadership, and we have to build off that.”