KIRKLAND – Hiawatha has no trouble filling up the stat sheet on the defensive end of the floor.
The Hawks tallied 12 steals and five blocks while forcing 21 turnovers against Leland-Earlville on Friday.
And after a slow start to the season, Hiawatha did just enough offensively to garner a victory in its Little Ten Conference opener.
Trailing by two with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Hiawatha went on a 5-0 run – catalyzed by a driving layup from senior Ed Canchola and a short jumper by senior Dakotah Quimby – and the Hawks held on for a 44-43 win at home.
“It feels good especially on our home court, exciting game, down to the wire,” said Canchola, who finished with seven points, nine rebounds and five steals. “Good thing we pulled it out at the end.”
Hiawatha (2-5, 1-0 LTC) and Leland-Earlville both struggled to score in the first half. The Hawks’ active zone defense forced the Panthers into 6-for-24 shooting to go along with 11 first-half turnovers.
Senior Carl Nelson’s 3-pointer from the corner with 15 seconds to play tied the game, 13-13, going into the half.
“Energy, energy, energy. I preach defense and rebounding,” Hiawatha coach Danny Klein said. “I feel like i have a lot of athletic players and I try to play to their strengths.”
Both teams failed to gain control in the second half. The largest lead by either team was Hiawatha’s five-point lead late in the third quarter after senior Derek Ross’ putback gave the Hawks a 28-23 lead.
Leland-Earlville battled back and took the lead with 1:58 left on Andrew Walsh’s three-pointer, but Hiawatha did just enough down the stretch and made four of six free throws in the final minute to clinch the win.
The victory already puts Hiawatha within one win of matching last season’s total. It’s been an adjustment under Klein in his first season as head coach, but his energy on the bench seems to be rubbing off on his team.
“He’s starting to grow on us and we’re growing on him,” said Ross, who had 11 points and 12 rebounds. “You could tell easily that he’s fired up. We take that and we feed off it.”
Senior forward Dakotah Quimby had 11 points and seven rebounds while Jace Williams chipped in five points and five steals off the bench for Hiawatha.
Klein said the offense is still a work in progress and, at times, the Hawks’ slash-and-kick style executed well. But against a tall, athletic Mooseheart team on Monday, the Hawks will get another tough challenge.
“There are still some points we can get better,” Canchola said. “Taking care of the ball, not turning the ball over...those kinds of things.”