By DOUG DONNELLY
ERIE – Erie Mason’s boys basketball program has arrived.
The Eagles clinched their fourth consecutive league championship Friday night with a 57-47 win over Whiteford. This title is much different than the one four years ago, with a completely new set of players, signaling how far the team has evolved over the last decade.
“We weren’t sniffing anything first seven years,” Eagles coach Kevin Skaggs said, referring to his first seasons as head coach of the Eagles. “I think we can claim the fact that we can say we are a program. Its going to just keep going now. That’s what you want when you are trying to build anything.”
The Eagles won back-to-back Lenawee County Athletic Association titles in 2018-19 and 2019-20. They moved to the Tri-County Conference and won the league title in their inaugural season in the league last season. They repeated Friday by withstanding a huge second-half rally by Whiteford.
The Eagles built early leads of 12-2, 19-4 and 29-9 by halftime. Eagle senior Chris Worden scored 9 first quarter points and Trent Herrera hit a 3-pointer at the first quarter buzzer, then Mark Sweeney pitched in with six second quarter points as the Eagles built what looked like an insurmountable lead.
For the Bobcats, who came into the game needing to beat the Eagles to clinch the league title, the game was far from over.
“We knew they were going to come back,” Skaggs said. “There is a lot of fight in those kids. I knew they would make a run, we just had to withstand it.”
Senior Jack Andrews opened the second half with a 3-pointer for Whiteford, then Shea Ruddy added one and Luke Rasor converted a three-point play to make it 32-18 with 6:28 left in the third quarter.
Whiteford would close the quarter on a 13-2 run, getting key buckets from Andrews, Rasor, Isaiah Joerin and Evan Parker along the way.
It was 38-33 with 7:41 left in the game when Rasor got a steal and made a layup for the Bobcats.
“I’m proud our kids for playing hard and coming back,” Whiteford coach Nick Abalos said. “They never quit. We challenged them at halftime and they came out and responded.’
With the gap at five points, Erie Mason got its biggest shot of the night, a 3-pointer from deep in the corner by Carson Brown, with 7:00 left on the clock.
“That was huge, probably the shot that broke their backs,” Skaggs said. “We tell him to keep shooting, even when he’s off. He has a tendency to stop shooting and look for the assists, but we need him to keep shooting.”
Brown’s bucket sparked an 8-0 Mason run that all but put the game out of reach. Whiteford scored twice in the final seconds to make it a 10-point game. Alex Langenderfer went 6-for-6 in the fourth quarter at the free throw line for the Eagles.
Worden finished with 18 points, Langenderfer 14 and Sweeney 12. The Eagles made six 3-pointers, outrebounded the Bobcats and shot 15-for-21 from the free throw line. Worden and Sweeney were dominant inside for the 13-5 Eagles.
“I was just working hard,” Worden said. “The last couple of games, Sweeney and I have done a great job inside and on the boards. We knew we had to come in tonight with the same energy.”
The Bobcats were plagued by turnovers early. They had four turnovers before attempting a shot and were in double digits early in the second quarter. However, the outscored Erie Mason 38-28 in the second half.
Rasor took game scoring honors with 19 points. He was the only Bobcat in double figures. Whiteford is 12-6 and play Jefferson and Bedford next week to get ready for the Division 3 district. Both the Bobcats and Eagles are in that district.
Erie Mason has a non-league game against Blissfield Tuesday and play Morenci Thursday to clinch the outright TCC title. If they lose to Morenci, the Bobcats will share the league title.
“It’s a blessing,” Skaggs said of the TCC title. “You can’t relax, though. You’ve got to keep going.”
Erie Mason 57, Whiteford 47
WHITEFORD: Ruddy 1(1) 0-0 3, I. Joerin 2 2-4 6, Rasor 7 5-7 19, Parker 2(2) 0-0 6, Giesige 0 4-4 4, DeBarr 1 0-0 2, Andrews 3(1) 0-0 7. Totals 16(4) 11-15 47.
ERIE MASON: Langenderfer 3(2) 6-6 14, Carson Brown 2(1) 2-2 7, Casey Brown 1 0-2 3, Worden 7(1) 3-7 18, Herrera 1(1) 0-0 3, Sweeney 4 4-4 12. Totals 18(6) 15-21 57.