HINCKLEY – When the season began, everybody knew the road to the Little Ten Conference title ran through Hinckley-Big Rock.
And halfway through the conference schedule, the Royals have made sure to keep it that way.
H-BR, which led Indian Creek by as many as 16 points in the second half, held on for a 64-60 win in a battle of the last two unbeaten teams in the league.
“A conference win, the top two teams in the last [five] days,” H-BR coach Bill Sambrookes said, noting the Royals’ win over previously undefeated Newark on Friday. “It’s a tribute to my guys that they can keep focus on two big games like that. My guys stepped up to the challenge.”
H-BR looked like it was going to cruise to a win in the third quarter when the Royals switched defenses, changing to a high-pressure defense with more trapping. On the night, the Royals forced 19 turnovers from Indian Creek.
The Royals (15-3, 4-0 LTC) thrived in transition. Zach Michels found Jared Madden for a 3-pointer and Mitch Ruh dished to Bernie Conley for a layup to give the Royals a 49-33 lead with just more than two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
“It’s almost like a natural reaction with us,” Ruh said. “We have so much chemistry that we know where everybody is and all we’re looking to do is find an open shot.”
But Indian Creek (10-8, 4-1) responded. Jaron Todd had four-point plays on consecutive Indian Creek possessions to quickly bring the H-BR lead down to 10.
The Timberwolves would slowly chip away in the fourth quarter, using a zone defense to slow the pace down and keep H-BR in check.
Two free throws from Garrison Govig with 28 seconds remaining put Indian Creek within two, but Michael Bayler came up with an offensive rebound after Michels missed the first free throw, and Ruh sank both foul shots to clinch the win.
“I thought we responded well in the second half to give ourselves a chance to win,” Indian Creek coach Joe Piekarz said. “We’re a box out away from giving ourselves a shot and that’s all you can ask.
“We can take some good things away from this game. I’ll take this team any day.”
Michels led the Royals with 18 points and seven rebounds while Bayler had 15. Conley and Madden each chipped in 11.
Jake Bjorneby led Indian Creek with 16 points while Garrison Govig had 15 points and 12 rebounds. Todd finished with 15 points, including four three-pointers.
“Indian Creek’s such a great team and we knew we had to get through them to have a chance at the Little Ten title,” Ruh said. “I’m sure we’ll see them again in the conference tournament.”