PRINCETON – A nearly perfect first half and a very imperfect second equated to a second straight boys basketball regional championship for Seneca on Friday night.
After building a 19-point halftime lead, the Fighting let Bureau Valley come all the way back to tie.
They regrouped to win 59-54 at the Class 2A Princeton Regional, advancing to play Wednesday at the Bureau Valley Sectional. No tickets will be presold for the sectional game.
“This is the first close game that we’ve actually won, not counting [a 55-53 Irish win over Yorkville], where we blew an eight-point lead there also,” Seneca coach Russell Witte said. “It was a great gut-check for our kids. They made the plays they had to down the stretch.”
Six players scored for the Irish (24-5) as they built a 15-8 lead by the end of the first quarter.
After making three of its seven field goal attempts in the first quarter, Bureau Valley made only one, in 10 tries, in the second as the Seneca lead ballooned to 32-13 by halftime.
The Storm did not score in the final 5:37; the Irish managed nine points, with Leo providing four and Conlan Callahan beating the buzzer with a conventional three-point play.
During the first half, Seneca was 13 for 25 to the field to the Storm’s 4 for 17 and held a 19-11 advantage in rebounds.
Seven of the eight players who got action for the Irish in the first half scored.
“We played some great defense. Besides the second time we played Plano [a 57-37 Irish win Feb. 14], that could have been our best defensive half.”
Behind an eight-point showing from Parker Neuhalfen, Bureau Valley (20-12) stormed back in the third quarter, cutting its deficit to 39-33.
The Storm went 8 for 15 from the field, doubling their field-goal output from the first quarter, and Seneca turned the ball over 11 times after doing so seven in the first half.
Seneca scored five of the first seven points in the fourth quarter before a 9-0 Storm run, which Neuhalfen capped with a conventional three-point play, tied the score at 44 with 3:31 left. Fifteen seconds later, Callahan made a 3 and Bott was fouled on the play.
Bott made two free throws, and the Irish lead fluctuated between three and nine points from there.