Royals run out fast, advance to semifinals

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Eastern Hancock's Landon O'Neal post up to shoot against Hagerstown on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

HAGERSTOWN — What could have been a potential trap game for Class 2A No. 9 Eastern Hancock on Wednesday night turned into a repeat of the past.

Refusing to overlook any opponent this postseason, the Royals won their fifth straight and advanced into Friday’s Sectional 41 semifinals with a decisive 92-43 quarterfinal victory over Union County at Hagerstown High School.

“The focus for this game was to make sure we were balanced and ready for the games ahead,” Eastern Hancock junior guard Silas Spaulding said. “We’re playing with a purpose and to get better as the games come. These teams, we’ve beaten them in the past, and we want to beat them again as we try to move forward to a championship.”

A flawless 8-0 against sectional foes this season, the Royals ran out quick against the hapless Patriots (7-16), building a 27-13 lead after the first quarter before initiating a running clock in the second half.

Eastern Hancock shot 61 percent from the floor, turned the ball over just three times and buried 11 of 22 3-pointers to surpass the 90-point mark for the first time this season. The program has eclipsed 100 points twice before in the past four years, but the IHSAA mercy-rule running clock made a third time a little too difficult to reach.

Regardless, nine different Royals (18-5) scored at least two points as the Sectional 41 favorites stormed out to 16-4 run in the first frame and finished with four double-digit scorers.

“We had a bunch of people score, and that’s just great to see. A ball and a basket for everybody,” Silas Spaulding said. “I feel like we all know how good we are, so if we know it, we’re going to act like it. We’re going to respect ourselves and our opponents just like any other team we might be playing.”

Spaulding and his twin brother, Jacob, both provided 19 points with a combined 12 assists. Silas had eight, while Jacob dished out four to go with a team-high five steals, three 3-pointers and two rebounds.

Senior Landon O’Neal poured in a game-high 21 points on 8-for-8 shooting, including a trio of 3-pointers (3-for-3) and a perfect 2-for-2 performance from the foul line. O’Neal didn’t miss a single shot opportunity.

The Royals defeated Union County 85-33 on the road, Jan. 29, during the regular season.

“It’s always good when you do what you’re supposed to do when you’re the favorite. I was proud of them. We beat them soundly the first time, and sometimes that can lead to some pretty flat play, and I thought we came out pretty energetic, pretty fundamentally sound with only three turnovers on the night,” Eastern Hancock head coach Aaron Spaulding said. “I felt real good about the kids’ effort tonight.”

Edric Miller had 12 points and four rebounds. Senior Cole Rainbolt had five rebounds and a 3-pointer. Cyrus Burton hauled in four rebounds and four points. Grant Gray chipped in seven points with a team-high six rebounds — all defensive.

“This team has always been that way. There are a lot of kids you have to account for,” Aaron Spaulding said. “If one is off or one is who they are focusing on, then somebody else steps up. It’s just a lot of balance, and it’s been that way all year long. We’re hoping that carries us for a while.”

The destination is hopefully Saturday night’s sectional title game with the Royals vying for their first championship since 2008 — at Hagerstown.

The Royals have five sectional titles to their credit since 1968, including a pair of 2A championships in 2003 and 2008.

“It was here (the last time). Hopefully, we can repeat, even though we’ve lost a couple since then here. More than a couple,” Aaron Spaulding said. “Matter of fact a couple of championship games here. But we talk about 1-0, and right now that’s what we’re thinking about. We have to take it one step at a time.”

The next hurdle is Cambridge City Lincoln (8-12), who eliminated Centerville in the second quarterfinal game on Wednesday. Lincoln and Eastern Hancock will meet in Friday’s second semifinal game at 7:30 p.m. The Royals defeated the Golden Eagles 64-29 on Dec. 18 during the regular season.

The first semifinal game on Friday will be between No. 11 Northeastern (18-5) and Knightstown (7-15) at 6 p.m.

Eastern Hancock 92, Union County 43

Eastern Hancock;27;24;24;17; —;92

Union County;13;8;13;9; —;43

EASTERN HANCOCK (18-5): Zach Arnold 1 0-0 2, Isaac Lewis 2 0-0 5, Silas Spaulding 8 0-0 19, Jacob Spaulding 7 4-7 19, Cole Rainbolt 1 0-0 3, Landon O’Neal 8 2-2 21, Edric Miller 5 1-2 12, Grant Gray 3 0-0 7, Cyrus Burton 2 0-0 4. Totals: 37 7-11 92.

UNION COUNTY (7-16): Grady Swafford 3 0-1 8, Ragen Bias 2 2-4 6, Mason Stewart 8 3-4 19, Reece Watterson 2 0-0 4, Logan Boone 1 0-0 3, Bradley Meadows 1 0-0 3. Totals: 16 5-9 43.

3-Point field goals: Eastern Hancock 11 (Lewis 1, S. Spaulding 3, J. Spaulding 1, Rainbolt 1, O’Neal 3, Miller 1, Gray 1), Union County 3 (Swafford 2, Boone 1).