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BOYS BB: Pioneer runs past West Central in regular-season finale

Feb. 26—ROYAL CENTER — The Pioneer Panthers haven't always played well — or more in particular shot well — in their newly renovated gym this season.

They didn't have a great shooting night in their home finale Saturday night but it was plenty good enough to get past West Central in a 58-35 victory.

Drew McKaig had 15 points, nine rebounds and six steals, Lucas Perry had 13 points, six boards and four steals and Brayden Erickson added 11 points and five rebounds to lead the Panthers, who enter sectional week with a 9-13 record, already a four-win improvement from a year ago.

"We had a lot of shots go in and out, roll all the way around," McKaig said. "But I think we really rebounded well and outhustled them. I know this is their third game in a row now and they were tired and they weren't really motivated to go after the ball, so we took advantage of that. And we hit our free throws which hasn't been great this year. It was really just a defensive, hustle win with some runout layups and we stuck with it."

The Trojans (3-19) were playing their third straight night after a 16-point loss to Rensselaer Thursday and an eight-point loss to Lake Station Friday.

Leading scorer Bryce Nannenga was held to four points, 15 under his season average. Jayden Miller stepped up with 21 points which included 4 of 4 shooting from 3-point range.

"Very conscientious," Pioneer coach Darren McKaig said of his team's defensive focus on Nannenga in their 2-3 zone. "The guys have done that a few times this year. So we kind of knew how to do it and they were confident that they could stop him. But usually when that does happen somebody else ends up scoring some points but we wanted to make someone else beat us tonight."

The Panthers led 13-12 after one quarter before outscoring the Trojans 15-3 in the second to take a 28-15 lead into halftime. They led 44-23 after three.

Pioneer's newly renovated basketball gym includes a new retaining wall on the west side of the gymnasium, a new black ceiling that added an extra foot of space for long shot attempts, a fresh paint job, new lights and scoreboards which are future-proofed with new shot clocks. Athletic Director John Bingaman added a new gym floor will be added soon which will make the gym practically brand new. It was part of major improvements at Pioneer which included a new HVAC system at the junior-senior high school and new bleachers and press box at the Pit.

Coach McKaig said the Panthers have shot the ball better in bigger gyms this season which he's hoping will continue at the Class 2A Lewis Cass Sectional.

"For some reason we haven't shot well here. We were still missing a lot of shots in the paint tonight too," he said. "But we have shot better on the road in some bigger gyms like at North Judson and Culver. We're going to take that confidence into the tournament and hopefully we can shoot well there."

The Panthers turn their attention to the sectional, where they drew a bye but are on a tough side of the bracket as they await Tuesday's winner between Wabash (17-5) and Rochester (10-11). Wabash enters having won nine games in a row including a win at Peru on Friday. Rochester is coming off an 87-70 victory over Maconaquah on Friday.

"We're different from pretty much any team," Drew McKaig said. "We're short but we're really quick and we have to use that to our advantage. We have to stay rooted on the defensive end. But of course Wabash or Rochester is going to be a tough matchup for us because they're taller and they have a lot of good scorers."

The Panthers plan on slowing the game down and are hoping to have a good shooting night.

"If we're hitting 3s like we did tonight," said Drew McKaig after the Panthers made seven 3s on Saturday night. "Trying to always wait for a perfect shot. Pass up a good shot for a better shot."

"We've played some good games against better teams," Darren McKaig added. "The common theme is we've hit about 10 3s in each of those games. So we know we're capable. I think this group likes being in a bigger gym in a bigger environment. Lewis Cass fits that. Hopefully we can be patient, be strong and then just find that good open shot and knock them down.

"We're not going to turn it into a track meet. We're not going to be able to outscore them. We're going to find that perfect shot and we're going to hit it."

Pioneer will play the Wabash-Rochester winner at 6 p.m. Friday at the Cass Sectional.