Royals one win from MEC championship

NEW CASTLE — It was another close game for the Eastern Hancock Royals, who are making a habit of it. But, the Royals are now one victory away from clinching a share of the Mid-Eastern Conference championship after Tuesday night’s 79-75 overtime victory against the Blue River Valley Vikings.

In the first quarter, it seemed as if the Vikings could not miss. Despite being guarded closely on nearly every shot, the Vikings raced out to a 27-18 lead after the first quarter.

The Vikings even extended that lead to 10 points at halftime, but it became apparent that Blue River’s shots would not fall all night.

In the third quarter, the senior trio of A.J. Muegge, Addison True and Tyler Castle began to bring the Royals back from their 10-point deficit. At one point, Castle scored on three consecutive possessions to draw a timeout from Blue River. Castle finished with 16 points and one of the game’s biggest defensive plays.

It was another senior, Tyler Blattner, whose only five points of the game came consecutively to give the Royals their first lead of the night with 6:45 seconds left in the game. The Vikings didn’t let the Royals get away from them however, and with 11 seconds left, they had the ball down three.

Muegge had perfect guarding position on Vikings’ guard Jackson Thornburgh, but his 3-pointer went in from the top of the key to force overtime.

Blattner nearly won the game before overtime was necessary, as he took an inbound pass with 2.3 seconds left, heaved the ball flat-footed from 55 feet. The ball was perfectly on line, but it bounced directly off the back of the rim. The shot was so close that Blue River coach Brian Klein hugged one of the officials in relief.

Muegge and True did the heavy lifting for the Royals in the overtime period. Four of Muegge’s team-leading 23 points came in overtime, while True added seven of his 21 points in the extra period.

Leading 76-72 with 21 seconds remaining, Castle stole a Blue River inbound pass off of his own deflection and was able to keep the ball in bounds by dribbling behind his back and calling a timeout for the Royals.

The Vikings would not get any closer from that point, and the Royals had the victory in the bag.

The win improves Eastern Hancock to 15-5 on the season and 7-1 in MEC play. A Friday win at Union Modoc (7:30 p.m. tip) would clinch a share of the conference title with either Shenandoah or Wapahani in the Royals’ first season in the league.