Coach Bill Butterworth had not seen his Bald Eagle Area boys’ basketball team win its season opener since any of the current players entered high school.
Early in the second quarter, he had to be wondering if the drought would continue.
Then, the Eagles’ defense turned the game around — overcoming a double-digit deficit — to fly past Penns Valley 43-30 Tuesday night.
“After the first quarter we kind of settled down,” said Butterworth, whose team trailed 14-4 at that time. “Our defense got us back in the game and our defense won the game.”
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BEA had not won a season opener since 2013, which also was the last time the Eagles had a winning record for the season.
“That’s a great feeling,” said Jordan Jones, who scored 11 points and gave out five assists. “Our student section really picked us up tonight, and our bench did a really good job keeping us in the game too.”
BEA’s Drew Bucha and Mark Eminhizer added eight points apiece, with Eminhizer also notching 10 rebounds and four blocks. Bucha and Jaden Jones pulled down five rebounds each.
Logan Snyder drained a game-high 17 points for the Rams (1-2), adding five rebounds and three steals.
Penns Valley was off to a sizzling start, hitting 7 of its first 15 shots. When Snyder drained the third of his four 3-pointers 1:16 into the second quarter, the Rams held a 17-6 lead. The Eagles were struggling, with five first-quarter turnovers adding to the misery.
Before the season, Butterworth instructed his team to improve in two major areas: defense and rebounding.
The Eagles switched to a man-to-man defense to shut down Snyder from the outside, and the defensive success started to pay dividends at the other end.
“We were getting up in their face, went man-to-man,” Jones said. “The defense was creating offense for us.”
By halftime, the Rams’ lead was sliced to 19-17, and when Bucha drove the lane, spun and hit a layup 2:01 into the second half, BEA had its first lead and never looked back.
“The shots were falling, and we were getting more and more confident,” Jones said. “Our entire game went up as the game went on. We were getting more into our defense, then our offense started to click, we started making shots and the whole game went from there.”
The Rams, meanwhile, kept struggling, making just 3 of their final 34 field goal attempts.
“The first quarter was something you’d like to bottle,” Penns Valley coach Terry Glunt said. “The second, third, fourth — we just didn’t make any shots.”
Seeing those numbers after the game ended had Butterworth proud of his team heeding his words to start the season. The Eagles outscored the Rams 39-16 in the final three periods.
“We’ve been working hard on our defense all three weeks (since the first practice),” Butterworth said. “We’ve been stressing defense, defense, defense. We’ve been working on our zones, trying to get a better mix, and tonight our man-to-man worked out.”
As for that other area he wanted to see improved when he spoke with his team at the first practice in November, BEA won the battle on the boards 30-18.
The Rams played for the second night in a row and the third in five days, but now Glunt is looking forward to a week of practices before the next game, and a chance to see Tuesday’s problems corrected.
“The kids are tired,” Glunt said. “(Wednesday) we’ll get in the gym, get in the gym and go over a few things. We’ll let them get their legs back.”